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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic Kale and borecole


Curly kale
I love curly kale with lots of gravy

Kale and borecole

Brassica oleracea Acephala group

Family: Cruciferae (Group 2)

Kale, a term which also includes borecole and rape kale, is the hardiest of all brassicas, resistant to clubroot and cabbage root fly, and rarely attacked by birds. It also tastes pretty good, whether as a green vegetable, an addition to the salad bowl, or as an ingredient in stir-fries.

Chinese kale is a different plant, dealt with on a separate page.

Kale does best in rich, well-cultivated, well drained soil. However, being such a tough beast, it can cope with almost any situation you throw at it.

Site and soil

Choose an open, unshaded site with fertile, well-drained and moisture retentive soil, which should be slightly acid (min pH 5.4, but see note on clubroot - add lime if necessary to adjust pH). Brassicas have a high nitrogen requirement and also need very firm soil. To ensure sufficient nutrient levels, it is best to topdress or apply a liquid feed such as seaweed fertiliser during growth.

Because brassicas are prone to soil infections, for example, Clubroot, it's important to use a minimum 3 year rotation plan.


Recommended cultivars

Dwarf green curled, Pentland Brig.

Sow in a seed bed unless soil is heavy, in which case use seed trays or modules to minimise root disturbance. Sow 2-2.5cm (¾-1") deep, spacing 7.5cm (3") apart in the row. Transplant at about 10cm (4") tall or when the first true leaves develop to follow legumes or onto a site which was manured the previous Autumn.

On light soils, plant into drills 8cm (3") wide by 10cm (4") deep and earth the plants up as they develop until the soil is level, otherwise on the flat. Plant firmly enough that pulling on a leaf results in it tearing. Use brassica collars to prevent root fly.

Sow late April to May 2.5cm (1") deep in 15cm (6") rows. Thin to 10cm (4") apart.

Transplant 6-8 weeks later in July, planting firmly, spacing dwarf varieties 45cm each way (18"x18") and others 60-85cm (24-30") each way.

Water after transplanting and daily in dry weather for 3-4 weeks, about ¼ pint per plant.

Hoe to keep weed free. Mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Catch crops may be sown between rows early on, eg. radishes, lettuces, seedling salad crops.

Water up to 4 gallons per sq yard per week in dry weather. The minimum watering requirement is a single heavy watering 10-20 days before maturity.

Harvest from November to April. The flavour improves after frost.


Whitefly are the only serious pest. Fatty acid or derris sprays are the best treatment. Crop covers only exacerbate the problem.

Note on clubroot

Soil may remain infected for 20 years; steps to avoid introduction include:

  • good drainage
  • rotation
  • liming acid soils to a pH around 7
  • working in high levels of organic matter
  • ensuring clean plants are used - source must be known to be free of disease (best grown at home in sterile medium)
  • boots and tools used on infected land must be thoroughly cleaned before use on clean land

Once infected avoid growing any brassicas except fast maturing types such as Texsel greens or cut and come again oriental seedlings. If you have no other land available, and you must grow types with a lengthy growing season, you can try sowing seed in modules, and potting up until the plants reach a height of 10cm (4") before planting out. A root drench may also help.

If you're interested in healthy food, you may also be interested in our sister site, The Health Site, Your Online Health Channel.

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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