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Beautiful Nutritious Kale

colorful kale

Are you looking for a plant that has multiple faces - nutritionally rich, easy to grow, and beautiful enough to use as an ornamental? Then some of the varieties of Kale may be just what your garden needs.

Kale is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, a favorite since ancient Rome and nutritionally is superior to most vegetables, with the highest protein content of all cultivated vegetables. It is rich beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin and reasonably rich in calcium. As part of a balanced diet, it is said to have particular benefits in helping to prevent age related macular degeneration, the degeneration of the eye in old age.

Although we hear more about kale today than a few years ago, and it is now quite visible in most good organic produce sections of the grocery store, many of us are still not familiar with the potential of kale. According to the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, the largest consumer of kale in North America is Pizza Hut... but not for eating.

They use if for decorating the salad bar!

Growing Kale

Kale is a leafy vegetable, usually grouped into the cooking greens category with collards, mustard, spinach and Swiss chard.  You can harvest very young leaves to use fresh in salads or allow plants to mature and use as a cooked green. Harvest kale by removing the larger, outer leaves and allowing the center of the plant to continue producing. Kale will be good throughout the summer months, but especially good after a frost.

Kale leaves become too tough to eat fresh as they mature, so the young leaves are the best to use. If you need to store picked kale, place it in the refrigerator and keep it moist but not sealed. It will retain its crispness for a week or so.

Kale is relatively pest free, but can be susceptible to black rot and club root as well as aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbageworm, cutworms and flea beetles. The best defense, as in all gardening, is to provide good growing conditions and keep the plants healthy. Companion plants that repel these insects are dill, mint and clover, so it may be beneficial to plant kale near them.

Kale prefers cool temperatures - optimal soil temperature is 60 - 65 degrees F. Hot weather will turn kale bitter. Grow it in a rich soil, high in organic matter and slightly acidic (5.5 - 6.5 pH), with a high nitrogen content, since it is grown for the foliage. Water your kale well, and side dress it throughout the growing season with compost or feed with fish emulsion to keep it growing well. Mulching is important to keep the ground cool.

You can direct seed in cold climates, in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked and the soil temperature is at least 45 degrees F. Kale will mature in about 2 months or less, so you can start your plants later or even plant multiple crops in succession. In warm climates, kale can be direct seeded in late summer or early fall, as well as in the spring. A winter crop of kale in warmer climates can be much sweeter than a summer crop.

Ornamental Kale

In the late summer and fall, nurseries offer winter ornamentals for your planters, and one of the most showy foliage plants is kale - in one or more varieties. Ornamental kale can show giant rosettes of frilly leaves in shades of lavender, deep rose, and pink, as well as crisp white and creamy yellow.They can have tall deep green leaves with bright burgundy stalks.

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These showy plants will tolerate cold weather and can hold their brilliant color all the way into spring, so they're great for growing in containers on porches, patios, or beside entryways, or even for massing in garden beds. Flowering kale, which has brightly colored foliage, is the most decorative, though all varieties of edible kale are attractive as well.

Gorgeous as a colorful foliage plant, kale will brighten your ornamental beds as well as your vegetable garden.

Gorgeous as a colorful foliage plant, kale will brighten your ornamental beds as well as your vegetable garden.

Recipes With Kale

Kale is used most frequently as steamed or stir-fried greens, in soups with potatoes, lentils and beans. Here are a few less common kale recipes:

Kale Smoothie

    * 1 banana, thickly sliced, frozen (or fresh)
    * 2 cups chopped kale
    * 1 tablespoon flax seed meal (optional)
    * 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
    * 1/4 cup milk
    * 1/3 cup orange juice

 Place the banana, kale, flax seed meal, and coconut oil into a blender, pour in the milk and orange juice. If using fresh bananas, add a couple of icecubes. Cover, and puree until smooth; serve.

Baked Kale Chips

    * 1 bunch kale
    * 1 tablespoon olive oil
    * 1 teaspoon seasoned salt

   1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
   2. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
   3. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.

Italian Kale
    * 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
    * 1 clove garlic, minced
    * 1 tablespoon olive oil
    * 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    * Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Cook the kale in a large, covered saucepan over medium-high heat until the leaves wilt. Once the volume of the kale is reduced by half, uncover and stir in the garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Cook while stirring for 2 more minutes. Add salt

Chili Roasted Kale

    * 4 cups kale, washed and stems removed
    * 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    * 1 tablespoon chili powder
    * 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

   1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
   2. Place the kale into a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss until evenly coated, then sprinkle with the chili powder and kosher salt, and toss again. Spread the seasoned kale onto a baking sheet.
   3. Roast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then stir the kale, and continue roasting until the edges become brown and a little crispy, 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

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