Growing at Glebelands - Kale

Kale (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group)
Family (for rotation): Brassicas
270-370 sds/g. 1000 sds = 2-3g.

Types:

Red Russian – variety most grown at Glebelands. Very tasty and popular. As a bonus, shoots can be cut in spring. Can be used for baby leaf production.

Curly Kales (Borecole, Scotch Kale) – hardiest varieties. Dwarf Green Curled is traditional variety, but hybrids are bred to be more uniform with less yellow leaves.

Broad Leaved Kale - Pentland Brig and Thousand – older varieties, can be tough in winter (for animal food), but regrowth in spring good

Hungry Gap more related to Swedes and oil seed rape, but mostly grown for shoots in spring produced over long period

Tuscan Kale/Cavalo Nero – becoming more popular – have grown successfully at Gleblands for late summer harvest, cutting whole head and leaving to regrow.

Sowing and planting

At Glebelands, we sow late April or May to transplant June or July (at 6-7 wks), then harvest from end August onwards. Aim to plant 3 mths before autumn frost
Can be sown in seed trays, then pricked out 1-2wks later into modules, and can also be sown directly into modules.
Seeds can also be sown in a "nursery bed", then re-planted into a permanent bed as bare root transplants - just make sure they can be irrigated after planting if conditions dry

Kale prefers a firm seed/planting bed, so can roll before planting if roller available

Different spacings are possible, depending on the variety used, but we plant Kale on 2 rows/bed (rows 2 ft apart), plants 1 ft apart in rows. If growing larger varieties, may need more space. This allows cultivation with tractor-mounted spring-tine cultivator - although will still need to hand hoe between plants

Kale can be grown in less fertile soils than other brassicas (leaves and shoots easier to produce than, for example, the buds of sprout or cabbage heads) – but yields will be higher & plants less likely to bolt in more fertile and well-drained soils.
Too rich soil can produce lush growth unable to withstand winter cold

Cultivation

At Glebelands young plants usually need protection from pigeons, and we have eventually found the only effective deterrent is covering with fleece or environmesh. Fleece is less heavy than mesh on little plants, but plants become too hot in summer under fleece and must be replaced by mesh. Covers will also protect against butterflies, aphids and whitefly.

Mesh can be removed in winter (when, theoretically, pigeons may have moved on), but can provide some protection against winter cold - and, crucially, damaging winds.

It is always helpful, if possible, to site overwintering plants somewhere sheltered - can put up windbreaks if necessary.

Keep well watered to reduce stress, and therefore susceptibility to pests and diseases

We have experimented with undersowing with Yellow Trefoil once the plants are well established, but timing is important: need to sow into weed-free beds, late enough to avoid competition, but early enough to let green manure become established before winter. This will depend on weather conditions.

Harvesting

Cut individual leaves and cool with water – can wilt very quickly, even if weather cold. Whole stems of Cavolo Nero can be cut. Will sell far better if put into full bags with nice label.

Cut shoots in spring before yellow flowers come out, though watch stems don’t become too tough

Note: If whitefly infestation occurs, will need to compost or rotavate old plants asap to stop them spreading.

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