Kale is a popular superfood due to its richness in healthy fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. It is low in calories and free from unhealthy fat, so it is a great source of healthy nutrition for the body. Studies have even suggested that kale can help lower your LDL cholesterol while raising your HDLs, which decreases your risk for cardiovascular disease. With all of its health benefits, it is no wonder why people are always looking for new ways to use kale.
But did you know that kale can easily be grown at home? Conventionally-grown kale is often contaminated with pesticides, which makes it important to always buy organic. However, growing as few as three or four plants in your own yard can supply you with enough greens each week to feed a family of four. Many people love to grow kale because of its decorative value as well.
Like other leafy greens, kale can absorb toxins that are present in the soil. Thallium toxicity has been a concern with kale and has even been reported in organically-grown plants. “Kale poisoning” refers to the possibility of ingesting dangerous levels of heavy metals kale leaves.
Some studies have shown that thallium levels in vegetable samples have led to people suffering from fatigue, nausea, and brain fogginess, which are all signs of low-level heavy metal poisoning. However, there is no proof that these symptoms are directly caused by the consumption of kale or other cruciferous vegetables.
While it is important to recognize the correlation between nutrient and contaminant uptake, and soil quality is important, this does not necessarily mean that there is an issue with the kale plant. If you are able to grow your vegetables in clean and healthy soil, you will avoid having a problem with heavy metals in your produce.
Kale Breeding Programs
There are a lot of different types of kale, all of which have different colors, tastes, and textures. New kale cultivars are even being produced on the basis of consumer preferences in kale. New cultivars will change consumer expectations for kale by introducing a range of new colors, textures, and leaf shapes.
Kale breeding programs gather feedback from every angle of the kale industry, including seed producers, kale growers, grocery store managers, and consumers. Consumer trials are being performed to gather data to establish a trait hierarchy so breeders know what people want in their kale.
Popular Varieties of Kale
So, what are people looking for in their kale? The oldest and possibly most wellknown variety of kale is curly kale. Its ruffled leaves and deep-green color provide a bitter and pungent flavor. Recently, other varieties of kale have surfaced, such as ornamental kale, Redbor kale, Red Russian kale and dinosaur kale.
Ornamental kale, which is often planted for decorative purposes, comes in shades of green, white, and purple. Its mellow flavor and tender texture vary greatly from the larger-leaved varieties that people also enjoy.
Kale Planting Practices
Kale thrives the most when it is grown in cooler temperatures. Kale that is grown in warm weather tends to be woody and bitter, which people do not prefer. Because of this, it is best to harvest your kale before it becomes too hot in the summer.
Plant your seeds indoors about six weeks prior to your last frost date. If you are looking for a healthy fall crop, plant your seeds about eight weeks prior to your first frost date. Because kale is tolerant of cold temperatures, you can even harvest kale after a light snowfall. Most varieties of kale can thrive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees F, which allows you to develop a winter crop.
If you are planting in the early spring or fall, be sure to plant your kale in full sun. However, during the summer months, plant them in partial shade. Remember that kale will not typically thrive in the summer, and will taste more bitter than a crop that is grown in a cooler climate.
Plant your seeds about one-half inch under fertile soil. Kale prefers soil that is slightly acidic and high in nitrogen. It is important to keep the soil moist, but avoid watering it too much because it may cause the seed to rot. You can use straw or mulch to preserve the soil’s moisture and to help prevent the roots from being exposed to excess heat.
The plant will typically develop in about 10 days. Once your inside seedlings are about 9 inches tall and you are able to see at least four developed leaves, you can transplant them into your garden.
Diseases and Pests
Kale is a member of the cabbage family, which makes it prone to rot diseases such as black rot, wirestem, and club rot. Kale is much more resistant to diseases than other vegetables, but common pests like aphids, slugs, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, cabbageworms, cutworms, cabbage root fly, and cabbage whitefly can post a threat.
One of the most efficient ways to protect kale from pests is to use a light row cover. After removing your row covers, check your kale for signs of pest damage and disease.
Harvesting and Storing Kale
Your kale can be harvested once the leaves are about five inches long. Harvest your kale by cutting the outer leaves off from the stem, leaving the center leaves on the stem to ensure continued growth.
Try to eat your kale within a few days of harvesting it so it is able to maintain its crispy texture. People love to use kale in their salads or soups and some people even bake it to make kale chips to have as a snack.
Kale is such a versatile and healthy plant to grow at home and it is easy to do with just a little bit of knowledge. Try using these kale growing tips to create your own supply of kale so you can incorporate this superfood into your daily diet.
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