How to Grow Organic Kale

Organic kale with water droplets on leaves

The Spruce / K. Dave

Kale is a favorite cool-weather crop among many gardeners. Not only is it nutritious, versatile, and delicious, but it is also stately enough to make a real impact in the garden. Kale can be grown as an annual in all climate zones. And if you live in zone 6 or higher, you might be able to overwinter your kale for an early spring crop as well.

Here are some tips for growing organic kale in the garden.

Where to Grow Kale

Kale grows best in full sun but will also do well in part shade. Be sure it has at least four hours of direct sun per day. It requires fertile, well-drained soil. And it's a good idea to amend your soil with a good amount of compost before planting kale.

You can grow kale in traditional garden beds, raised beds, or containers. If you decide to grow in a container, make sure the container is at least 10 inches deep and that you give the plants plenty of room to grow. You can also add kale to ornamental beds; the blue-green leaves of 'Lacinato' or the light magenta stalks and veins of 'Red Russian' will add plenty of beauty to a flower bed.

How to Plant Kale

You can direct sow kale seeds in your garden roughly four weeks before your last spring frost date. You can also start them indoors around the same time and transplant near your last spring frost date. For a fall crop, direct sow seeds around six to eight weeks before your first fall frost date.

Kale seeds should be planted 1/2 inch deep, and plants generally should be spaced 1.5 to 2 feet apart. Once your seeds have germinated, give the area a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture and keep the roots cool.

Caring for Organic Kale

Kale is pretty easy to grow once it's established. Be sure your plants get at least 1 inch of water per week, either from rain or the hose. Fertilize organic kale once a month with fish emulsion or compost tea.

Kale plants will mature in about 50 to 65 days, depending on the variety. But you can also pick leaves sooner; many people prefer the small, tender kale leaves.

Organic kale leaves with some leaves underneath with water droplets

The Spruce / K. Dave

Kale leaves and sprouts growing organically seen from above

The Spruce / K. Dave

Organic kale plants with large leaves clustered together

The Spruce / K. Dave

Organic kale sprouts growing from seed tray closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Common Problems

The most common pest that affects kale is the cabbage worm. These small green worms are the larvae of the cabbage white butterfly and will eat holes in the leaves of your kale, sometimes at an alarming rate. To control cabbage worms, pick them off by hand and squish them, or use an organic pesticide if you have a large infestation. Floating row covers over your kale also can help prevent infestations.

Another common problem with kale is the leaves toughen as they age. Try to harvest young leaves that are smaller than a foot long. The best way to ensure plenty of tender kale leaves is to harvest regularly; the plant will keep producing new leaves from its center.

Recommended Kale Varieties

Here are some popular kale varieties:

  • 'Red Russian' has a grayish-green tint to the leaves, with light purplish stalks and veins. This delicious variety is good sautéed or steamed—as well as when harvested small and added raw to green salads.
  • 'Lacinato' is also known as "dinosaur kale" because of its dark green, bumpy texture. It is extremely hardy. The leaves can be tough if they're too large, so this is a good variety to harvest regularly for small, tender leaves.
  • 'Winterbor' is a curly kale variety with deep green, ruffled leaves. It's known for its hardiness.