It’s the season for container gardens. Whether you only have room on a patio or balcony or just want to keep your garden closer to the kitchen, container gardens are a great way to practice your green thumb and keep a healthy variety of produce on your table.
Black-thumb gardeners should feel a sense of security when attempting to grow kale. They’re one of the easiest cabbages to grow. Kale is a cold weather crop, so you can keep it growing on your balcony for longer than many other crops.
When to Start?
Always running behind schedule? Since kale does so well in the fall, you can wait as late as July or August in the Pennsylvanian area to plant kale. If you do have time to plant a few pots right away, you’ll be able to keep a rotating crop of kale on your balcony.
Where to Start?
First, do you want to grow your plants from seeds or are you starting with seedlings? If you opt for seeds, the difference is about 4 to 6 weeks of growing indoors.
How long will it take your seed or seedling to reach harvesting? Depending on the variety of kale, this could take anywhere from 45 to 75 days. If you have a big family, the faster growth time would suit your needs better.
How Much Room?
Kale needs space to grow, about six square inches, so you can’t bunch them together too much. At the same time, you probably won’t let your plants get too big, because you’re going to eat them as soon as they’re ready. I’d stick to six inches of space per plant and not worry about extra wiggle room.
If your space is limited, look into plant stands and shelves so that you can grow your plants up and not out.
Time to Plant
It’s important for the soil to stay moist, and it isn’t always easy in a container. Mixing loam with your soil will set a foundation for good health. Check the pH in the soil, too. You don’t want the nitrogen levels to be too high, and the pH should be between 5.5 and 5.8.
The trickiest thing about kale and a container garden is maintaining the environment. Balconies and patios can get too hot in the summer time, so you’ll need partial shade to keep your plants alive. When we start to edge back into cooler temperatures in the fall, it’ll be time to push your plants out into full sun.
Kale Maintenance Tips
Consider the following maintenance tips for growing a delicious kale crop:
- Mulch: Mulch will help keep your plants alive. A thick layer of mulch will protect the roots from the sun and save moisture. Remember, containers often dry out, so be careful. Lots of water and occasional compost — every 6 to 8 weeks — is also essential.
- Bug Check: If you’re trying a spring crop, you’ll be at a higher risk for insect problems. Keep an eye out for aphids or cabbage worms. They’re the reason many people opt to wait for the fall growing season.
- Water: A common rookie mistake with plants is to water the leaves. Make sure you water plants first thing in the morning. Otherwise, beads of water on the plants can actually refract the light and scorch your kale.
Harvesting: Time to Eat!
Have you ever bit into a piece of particularly bitter kale? Kale is best harvested after a good frost or even in the snow — it’ll enhance the sweetness. They aren’t kidding when they call it a cold weather crop.
Avoid cutting the bud in the middle of the plant. That’s the part that will keep fresh leaves growing.
If you’re trying spring kale crops, remember to keep them in the shade. Harvest in the early morning hours when the temperature is at the absolute coolest part of the day. Expect your spring harvest to be bitter, but it’ll make your fall crop taste that much sweeter. You can always pair the kale with a wine or different foods to make it taste sweeter.
Now, set up a strategy and get ready to start planting. Enjoy!