Growing Curly Kale

Kale is such a beautiful plant with velvety green leaves and delicious flavor. One of the most common varieties is Curly Kale.

Ideal Season: Cool

Sun: Full Sun/Partial Shade

Ideal Soil Type: Well Drained Loam Soil

Ideal Temperature: 60°F – 70°F (15°C – 21°C)

Maturation Period: 55 – 75 Days (depending on the variety)

Lifespan: Biennial

What is Curly Kale?

Curly kale, also known as Scots kale or borecole, is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica oleracea species, which includes other popular vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. It is characterized by its tightly curled, ruffled leaves and is highly nutritious, rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like calcium and iron.

Honestly, I was not a huge fan of it unless locally grown because it can be quite bitter. When grown at home, the taste is flavorful yet mild in bitterness.

The small bush of kale hiding behind barbeque rosemary.

The Experience

This was one of my favorite plants to grow this season. I had planted it before winter, neglected it a bit during the winter, and when March hit, I replanted it from a pot and placed it into my raised garden bed.

In June, it was ready to harvest. I pinched off the leaves and stems and washed them with my Homemade Vegetable Wash. There was something magical about holding this incredible stem and leaf, watching the dew from the evening before pearl and bead up, and gently rubbing the delicate leaves between my fingers.

I could have harvested just the outer leaves, but I harvested the whole thing. I am looking forward to making a delicious white bean stew with it.

When I sampled the kale, the leaves were crisp and the taste was strong, yet not bitter—in fact, it was the most delicious kale leaf I had ever eaten. All of these homegrown leafy greens are beginning to spoil me.

How to Grow Curly Kale

  1. Climate and Season: Curly kale is a cool-season crop that thrives in temperatures between 60°F (15°C) and 70°F (21°C). It can tolerate light frosts but may suffer in extreme heat. It’s best to plant kale in early spring or late summer/early fall.
  2. Location: Choose a spot in your garden that receives full sun or partial shade. Kale prefers well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
  3. Soil Preparation: Prepare the soil by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris. Add compost or well-rotted manure to improve soil fertility and drainage.
  4. Planting: Sow kale seeds directly into the soil or start with seedlings purchased from a nursery. Plant seeds about ½ inch deep and 12 to 18 inches apart. If using seedlings, space them accordingly. Rows should be around 18 to 24 inches apart.
  5. Watering: Keep the soil evenly moist, but avoid overwatering. Kale requires about 1 inch of water per week, but this may vary based on weather conditions.
  6. Fertilization: Apply a balanced fertilizer or compost around the base of the plants about a month after planting. This will provide additional nutrients for healthy growth.
  7. Maintenance: Keep an eye out for pests such as aphids or cabbage worms. Use organic pest control methods or insecticidal soap if necessary. Regularly remove any damaged or yellowing leaves to promote better air circulation and discourage disease.
  8. Harvesting: You can begin harvesting curly kale when the leaves are of desirable size, usually around 55 to 75 days after planting. Harvest the outer leaves first, leaving the central leaves to continue growing. This allows for multiple harvests. Be sure to pick the leaves before they become too tough or bitter.

Common Pests and Diseases

  1. Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can cluster on the undersides of leaves and cause distortion or yellowing. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or by attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings.
  2. Cabbage Worms: The larvae of cabbage butterflies or moths, such as the cabbage white butterfly, can feed on kale leaves, leaving behind large holes. Handpicking them or using organic insecticides specifically formulated for caterpillars can help control their population.
  3. Flea Beetles: These small, jumping beetles can create tiny holes in the leaves of kale. Floating row covers or insecticides can be used to prevent and manage flea beetle infestations.
  4. Slugs and Snails: These slimy pests can chew irregular holes in kale leaves. You can physically remove them from the garden, set up beer traps, or use organic slug and snail baits to control their population.
  5. Downy Mildew: This fungal disease appears as yellow or pale green patches on the upper leaf surface, with gray or purplish fuzz on the undersides. Adequate air circulation and avoiding overhead watering can help prevent downy mildew. Fungicides may be necessary in severe cases.
  6. Powdery Mildew: Powdery mildew causes a white, powdery coating on the leaves, eventually leading to leaf yellowing and distortion. Improve air circulation, space plants properly, and use fungicides if needed.
  7. Black Rot: Black rot manifests as V-shaped lesions on the leaf margins, turning brown or black as they spread. It can also affect the stems and heads of kale. Crop rotation, removing infected plant debris, and avoiding overhead watering can help prevent black rot.
  8. Clubroot: Clubroot is a soil-borne disease that causes swollen, distorted roots. It thrives in acidic soil. Practice crop rotation, improve soil drainage, and consider using resistant varieties to manage clubroot.

Kale in Cuisine

  1. Kale Salad: Kale is often used in salads due to its hearty texture. Massaging the kale leaves with a dressing helps to tenderize them. You can create a kale salad with a variety of toppings such as nuts, fruits, cheese, or a flavorful vinaigrette.
  2. Kale Chips: Baking or dehydrating kale leaves with a little olive oil and seasoning creates crispy and nutritious kale chips. They make for a healthy snack option.
  3. Kale Smoothie: Adding raw kale leaves to your smoothie is a great way to incorporate this nutritious green into your diet. Pair it with fruits, yogurt, or other vegetables for a refreshing and healthy drink.
  4. Kale Pesto: Replace or combine kale with basil in a traditional pesto recipe. Blending kale with garlic, olive oil, nuts, and Parmesan cheese creates a flavorful sauce that can be used in pasta dishes, sandwiches, or as a dip.
  5. Sautéed Kale: Sautéing kale with garlic and olive oil is a simple and delicious way to enjoy this vegetable. It can be served as a side dish or used as a topping for pizzas, pasta, or grain bowls.
  6. Kale Soup: Kale can be added to various soups, such as vegetable soup or minestrone. It adds a nutritious element and a vibrant green color to the dish.
  7. Stir-Fried Kale: Stir-frying kale with other vegetables, protein (like tofu or chicken), and flavorful sauces creates a quick and healthy stir-fry dish.
  8. Kale Wraps: Use large kale leaves as a substitute for tortillas or wraps. Fill them with your choice of ingredients like grilled vegetables, hummus, or roasted chicken.

Other Kale Varieties

Curly Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica): This is the most common type of kale, with tightly curled, ruffled leaves. It has a slightly bitter taste and is often used in salads, soups, and stir-fries.

Lacinato Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): Also known as Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, or black kale, it has dark blue-green, long, narrow leaves with a blistered texture. Lacinato kale has a more delicate and sweeter flavor compared to curly kale. It is commonly used in soups, stews, and sautés.

Siberian Kale (Brassica napus var. pabularia): Siberian kale has blue-green, flat leaves that are more tender and less curly than traditional curly kale. It has a milder flavor and can be used in salads, smoothies, or cooked dishes.

Chinese Kale (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra): Chinese kale, also known as Chinese broccoli or Gai Lan, has thick stems and dark green leaves. It has a slightly bitter taste and is often used in stir-fries and Asian cuisine.

Premier Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): This variety features dark green, frilly leaves that are exceptionally tender. It has a mild and sweet flavor, making it suitable for salads or lightly cooked preparations.

Dwarf Blue Curled Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica): As the name suggests, this variety is a compact, dwarf kale with densely curled leaves. It is ideal for small gardens or container growing.

Wild Garden Kale (Brassica oleracea): Wild Garden Kale is a mix of various kale varieties, offering a blend of colors, leaf shapes, and flavors. It provides a diverse and visually appealing mix for salads and stir-fries.

Beira Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): Beira kale, also known as Portuguese Walking Stick Kale, features large, flat, and slightly blistered leaves. It has a robust flavor and is commonly used in Portuguese cuisine for soups, stews, and sautés.

Rainbow Lacinato Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): This variety is a colorful variation of Lacinato kale. It features dark green leaves with purple veins and stems. It combines the characteristic flavor of Lacinato kale with a touch of visual appeal.

Winterbor Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): Winterbor kale is a hardy variety known for its vigorous growth and resistance to cold temperatures. It has curly, deep green leaves that are excellent for salads or cooked preparations.

Red Russian Kale (Brassica napus var. pabularia): This variety has flat, fringed leaves with a purple stem. It has a mild and sweet flavor and is often used in salads or lightly cooked.

Redbor Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): This kale variety has vibrant, deep purple-red leaves that hold their color even after cooking. It has a milder flavor compared to some other varieties and is often used for its ornamental value in gardens as well.

Portuguese Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): Also called Tronchuda kale or Portuguese cabbage, this variety has large, broad leaves with a slightly savoyed texture. It has a mild and cabbage-like flavor and is commonly used in soups, stews, and traditional Portuguese dishes.

Scotch Curled Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica): Similar to curly kale, Scotch curled kale has deeply curled leaves and a rich flavor. It is commonly used in traditional Scottish dishes such as colcannon and stews.

White Russian Kale (Brassica napus var. pabularia): White Russian kale has large, flat, and slightly fringed leaves with a bluish-green color. It has a sweeter and more delicate taste compared to some other kale varieties.

Olympic Red Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): This kale variety showcases deep purple-red leaves that intensify in color as the plant matures. It has a mild flavor and retains its color well when cooked.

Red Ursa Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): Red Ursa kale is an eye-catching variety with deep red or burgundy leaves that intensify in color as they mature. It has a tender texture and a slightly sweet flavor.

Ragged Jack Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica): Ragged Jack kale, also called Raggedy Jack or Ragged Fringed Scotch, has heavily fringed and ruffled leaves with a bright green color. It has a robust flavor and is often used in cooking or as an ornamental plant.

Ripbor Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala): Ripbor kale is a hybrid variety that combines the traits of red kale and Lacinato kale. It has dark green, heavily blistered leaves with red veins and stems. It offers a unique flavor and appearance for culinary use.

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  1. I love Curly Kale… and have grown in previous years… The last couple year however we didn’t… I think we planted purple flowering broccoli instead.. .. Great source of Iron and vitamins..
    We fell in love with Rainbow Chard too,… and this too has overwintered well here in England. 🙂
    Thank you for sharing.. Growing our Own food tastes so much better 🙂 <3

  2. I’m originally from Tennessee, and I love all kinds of greens. I know kale is currently considered a superfood, but I also like collard, mustard and turnip greens! It’s hard to find those frozen in the stores where I live so growing them would be fun, but I don’t think I could grow a “mess” in a container.

    1. You’d be surprised! I once grew salad greens in a container and got a great harvest. My only downfall was that I grew them in the summer, so my entire harvest was bitter 🤪

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