Kale is the new darling of the food industry and yet it has been known to man for centuries. It is also the easiest crop to grow in my garden.
Unfortunately the product available in grocery stores is often old, tough and bitter. Kale should be experienced while it is under a year old, tender and sweet to the taste. I plant it any time from August to early November, with varying results.
For me, its finest quality, is the ease in which it is grown, I use it as an end of the season replacement crop to carry over the winter months, expecting an explosion of new rapid growth in the earliest of spring days. When I see a row of plants approaching the end of its usefulness, I begin planning to replace it with something that will grow fast enough to beat the frost or to winter over and revive in the spring. Kale fills both requirements.
Last week, I pulled up a row of green beans whose finest hour was long gone, and gazed upon that empty, open row with speculation and calculation. Yep, a dollar’s worth of Kale seed would fill that row to the brim.
From the broken soil that had held the bean plants, I raked the debris and litter that remained, and then loosened the soil a little more with a garden fork to promote water absorption and root growth.
Using a metal rake, I roughed up the surface of the soil until it was uniformly crumbled and presented a flat yet unsmooth platform to hold the seed. The seed itself is tiny, only a little larger than poppy seed, round and difficult to pick up individually. I buy seed in bulk at the seed store and buy about a 4oz. measure to plant a 3 foot by 30 foot bed. It is easier to handle and much cheaper, over-plant all you want, it will pay off.
Unless you have perfect loamy soil, you might want to lay down an inch or two of well composted matter, finely chopped straw, or soil conditioner. I have a flock of hens whose main job is to take wheat straw and break it down into a soft, loose mulching material. Point being, it is not necessary but very useful if you can manage to “pre-mulch” this bed, you won’t have an opportunity later.
It serves at least three important functions: It will hold and protect the soil, it will keep down weeds and conserve water, and it will serve as the germination medium for the seed.
Pour your seeds into a small glass jar. Take the jar lid outside and puncture it many times with a nail or ice-pick, attach it to the jar. You now have a primitive salt shaker and that’s how it works.
Working methodically up and down the row, shake the jar lightly, letting the seed flow onto the prepared soil. Make sure that all your seed doesn’t fall too thickly in one area, better to make two or three journeys up, then back down your bed, scattering the seed widely and evenly. Okay, it’s planted!
Now is the time to scatter about a pound of 10-10-10 all-purpose garden fertilizer in the same manner you scattered the seed. If you prefer organic, go with what you have, or try to find a slow-release high nitrogen food.
Nitrogen will be the most important nutritional element to be added to the bed. Next with a water hose, sprayer set on shower, water this bed thoroughly.
Keep the soil damp for at least a week, watering daily if necessary, you will see baby plants in a short time but water is essential to this first growth, let them put down sturdy little roots before you cease the watering. Done early enough, the kale will withstand all but the bitterest cold and furnish delicious greens for months to come.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.