You probably know that kale is a super-healthy superfood full of essential vitamins and minerals that improve heart health and fight cancer. "Kale is loaded with vitamins A, B, C, and K, manganese, calcium, and potassium," says registered dietician Renee Clerkin. "It's one of the healthiest foods around."
Keeping this leafy green on hand is an easy way to add more nutrients to your diet, and lucky for you, it's not hard to grow kale at home! So long as you have a pot and a bit of outdoor space, you can have mature kale in just a few months to add to salads, soups, smoothies, and more. We broke down everything you need to know about growing kale—including how to pick the right seeds, when to plant them, and how to harvest the veg—so you can add it to all your meals this summer. (See some of our favorite kale recipes below, too!)
When to plant
Kale is a cold-hardy vegetable, so you're okay to plant it in early spring. "Cool weather brings out the sweet, nutty flavor of this highly nutritious green," according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, so no need to fear a bit of chill.
If you want to harvest your kale in the summer, aim to plant in early spring—about six weeks before the last frost. That typically means you'll be planting in late March or early April. But keep an eye on the weather! Although kale can withstand some cold, it struggles in temps below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. So don't plant too early, and be sure to cover your plants if you're faced with a late-season freeze.
How to choose your seed
There are several varieties of kale to pick from, but it's easy to choose your variety if you know how you plan to cook with it. Go for Lacinato kale if you'll be making lots of salads, according to Shape. For smoothies, opt for Russian kale. Soups and sautéd recipes do well with Redbor kale. And for all your kale chip or general cooking needs, curly kale is your best friend. For best success and to find your fave, choose 2-3 different varieties to start.
How to plant
Once you've picked your seedlings and identified your ideal planting date, you're good to plant. Start your seeds indoors to protect them from the cold. In a pot, mix 1/2 cup of fertilizer (find one marked 5-10-10 to give your seeds just the right PH to grow) with your planting soil, then place your seeds around a half-inch deep and cover with another half inch of soil. Kale loves sun and moist soil, so put the pot in a location that gets full sun to part-shade and water any time the soil feels dry.
Your starter plants will be ready to move outside to your garden or outdoor pots in 5 to 8 days (yes, that quickly!). Be sure to set them about 18 inches apart so they have plenty of room to grow. Again, go for a spot that gets full sun, if possible, and be sure to keep your kale well-watered.
How to harvest
Kale takes about two months to mature, so if you plant in late March or early April, you can start enjoying your kale at the end of May or start of June—just in time for warm weather. To harvest, pick your kale leaves when they are about the size of your hand. Pick the outside leaves first, and avoid picking the very top center leaves, as that’s where the plants' continual growth comes from. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends picking one fistful of leaves per harvest. Be sure to pull out the yellow leaves to keep the plant growing, too. If the environment is right and you care for the plants well, they can live for years, which means more kale for you!
How to store and eat
Storing your kale leaves is easy. Just place them in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge and keep them moist. They'll stay fresh for up to two weeks.
When it comes to serving, if you're eating kale fresh (like in a cold salad), be sure to massage the leaves to make them softer and less bitter. Pull the big rib down the center of the leaf out, and then toss leaves in a bowl with olive oil and a pinch of salt and knead them like you would dough.
Other delicious ways to serve kale are to steam it, sauté it with meats or other veggies, or boil it in soups or stews. Lower cooking temps and times preserve kale's nutrition, Clerkin says, but "it's more important that people are eating their veggies than worrying about the cooking method they are using." See some of our favorite kale recipes below, then give your green thumb a try this spring. It produces some delicious results.
Kale Caesar Chips
Recipe: Try our Kale Caesar Chips
Kale Mac 'n' Cheese
Recipe: Try our Kale Mac 'n' Cheese
Kale & Carrot Salad with Candied Walnuts
Recipe: Try our Kale & Carrot Salad with Candied Walnuts
Honey-Mustard Salmon with Kale
Recipe: Try our Honey-Mustard Salmon with Kale
Lamb Pasta with Kale & Mint Pesto
Recipe: Try our Lamb Pasta with Kale & Mint Pesto
Baked Eggs with Sausage & Kale
Recipe: Try our Baked Eggs with Sausage & Kale