Kale (also known as Borecole) is one of our most popular green leafy vegetables. Although it has a long growing period, the coloured curly leaf kales can look quite attractive in the vegetable plot. It will need good protection from birds and pests.

A member of the brassica family, Kale is one of the easiest and hardiest of the brassicas to grow. A good winter cropping vegetable.

How to Cook >> Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: moisture retentive, well-enriched, deeply dug soil.

Conditions: Full sun.

Ease of Cultivation: Easy.

Type: Leafy Vegetable.

Hardiness: Fully hardy in most regions of the UK.

When to Sow: March to May.

Harvest Season: October through to April.

Planting and Growing Kale

Kale is tolerant of poor soils, but richer soils will produce better results.


Follow standard crop rotation rules, by not growing in an area of ground that has been used for brassicas in the past three years.

The soil must be firm to prevent the plants from blowing over in strong winds.

When to Sow

Sow in thinly in drills (rows) about 1in (2.5cm) deep. Sow maincrop varieties from late March to May. Sow spring varieties in early autumn.

The seedlings should be thinned out to 4in (10cm) spacing. Thin again or transfer to the final growing site in July, planting 18 to 24in (45 to 60cm) apart in all directions (depending on variety).

Module sown plants can be planted-out when about six to eight weeks old.

Mature plants can reach 2ft wide by 3ft (90cm) tall, so give them plenty of room to grow. Cut and grow again crops can be planted closer together, as required.

Taking Care of Kale

Water until well established. However, once established, avoid over-watering as this can produce over-lush growth that may not overwinter well. Remove any flower buds that form and feed with a high nitrogen fertiliser.

Keep on top of weeds. Discard any old yellowing foliage as the plants grow. Stake taller varieties.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to aphids, whitefly and cabbage white butterfly. Birds can also be a nuisance, pecking at the young leaves, so net the crops early to prevent attacks.

Most varieties are tolerant of club-root.

Harvesting Kale

This hardy leafy vegetable is ideal for winter use, when little else is available in the garden. It produces succulent leaves that are best picked when young.

Harvest young leaves from October/November onwards (around 30 weeks after sowing) using the cut and grow again technique, allowing the plant to re-sprout. Continue harvesting until the leaves become bitter tasting.

How to Cook Kale

The flavour is much better if you harvest young leaves rather than older, tough ones. Very young leaves are delicious eaten raw in salads. Boil or stir-fry leaves when mature.

Wash thoroughly and bring to boil in slightly salted water. Cover and simmer on a medium heat for 8-10 minutes.

Nutritional Value

Kale is one of one of the healthiest and most nutritious of the leafy vegetables. Considered a 'super food', it is high in vitamin A, K, C, B6, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium.

Popular Varieties of Kale

Kale comes in curly leaf and plain leaf varieties. The curly leaved types tend to be smaller and more tender.

Kale 'Black Magic' is ideal for the UK climate with good resistance to bolting. The dark leaves can be cut early as a baby leaf or left to mature for harvesting in the autumn. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Kale 'Dwarf Green Curled' is an attractive compact form, with dark, tightly curled leaves. Ideal for difficult or windswept sites and poor wet soils. Does not require staking. Ideal for trugs and containers. Height to 16in (40cm), spread to 18in (45cm). Available from Van Meuwen.

Kale 'Emerald Ice' is a popular hardy annual with ruffled leaves and crisp leaf stalks. Its white centre contrasts attractively the green outer foliage. Good flavour and texture. Height: 3ft (90cm), spread: 2ft (60cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Kale 'KX-1' is a striking variety with bright red, serrated, curly leaves that darken to deep purple-red. Ideal for cut and grow again baby leaves or harvested at full maturity. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Kale 'Midnight Sun' is a hardy annual with textured outer leaves and contrasting red veins. Can be left to fully mature or can be eaten early as a baby leaves in salads. Height to 3ft (90cm), spread to 2ft (60cm).

Kale 'Nero di Toscana' has attractive dark green, deeply savoyed, strap-like leaves. A good winter form, although it is also popular as a baby salad leaf. Height to 3ft (90cm), spread to 2ft (60cm). Available from Van Meuwen.

Kale 'Reflex' (F1 Hybrid) is a hardy form with intensely curled, bluish dark leaves, that stand well without yellowing. Can be picked over a long period or harvested early as a baby salad leaf. Can be succession sown to provide regular crops throughout the year.

Kale 'Scarlet' is a very attractive, dark green, red veined variety that shows more colour as the weather turns cold. Can be eaten as a 'salad leaf' or left to mature. Long season of harvest. Prefers a moist, rich, well-drained soil. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Kale 'Starbor' (F1 Hybrid) can be grown all year round as a 'baby leaf', indoors on a sunny windowsill. Give it wider spacing outdoors, where it will provide an abundance of densely curled leaves over a very long period.

Plant Groups