Kale is the new superfood that is taking the world by storm. With an array of health benefits, it is easy to see why. But along with this popularity comes rising prices.
Growing your own Kale at home can help reduce the amount spent on the superfood and it means the whole family will benefit from the myriad of beneficial health qualities.
A descendent of wild cabbage, Kale entered Europe around 600 B.C with Celtic travellers. A significant crop for ancient Romans and a vegetable eaten by peasants in the Middle Ages, English settlers brought Kale to the USA in the 17th century.
Originally a decorative garden plant, it has now two common varieties: ornamental and dinosaur. The latter was discovered in Italy in the 19th century while ornamental kale was commercially cultivated in 1980’s California.
Kale offers an unprecedented number of health benefits compared to many other foods, making it one of the most sought after vegetables by health aficionados all over the world, from the low calorie content to the anti-inflammatory properties.
- Low Calorie, High Fibre, Zero Fat
With only 36 calories, 5 grams of fibre and 0 fat, one cup of Kale is great for aiding digestion. It is also full of many vitamins, folate and magnesium.
Given the incredibly low calorie content, kale is among the most nutrient dense foods in existence. Eating more kale is a great way to dramatically increase the total nutrient content of your diet.
- High in Iron
Essential for the production of haemoglobin, enzymes and transporting blood around the body, Kale has more iron than beef, per calorie.
- High in Vitamin K
Necessary for a range of bodily functions such as bone health and blood clotting, Kale can help those suffering from Alzheimer’s. It also protects the body from various forms of cancer including; bladder, breast, colon, ovary and prostate. A single cup of Kale contains more than seven times the recommended RDA for vitamin K.
- Bile Acid Sequestrants
A group of resins used to bind bile together in the body are present in Kale. Bile acid sequestrants have been shown to lower cholesterol and decrease fat absorption within the body. These properties work better when Kale is steamed as it makes it easier for bile acids to be excreted. The isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from Kale’s glucosinolates are vital to achieving such risk lowering benefits.
- High in Calcium
With more calcium than milk, per calorie, Kale helps prevent bone loss, maintain a healthy metabolism, and prevent osteoporosis.
Filled with sulphur and fibre, Kale is the perfect aid for detoxing and keeping the liver healthy. The ITC’s created by the Kale’s glucosinolates help regulate the detox at a generic level.
- Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory
10% of the RDA of omega 3 fatty acids can be found in Kale, which aids the fight against arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders. With over 45 different flavonoids such as kaempferol and quercetin, Kale’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits combine to give this superfood a leading dietary role with respect to avoidance of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
How to Grow Your Own Kale
The best time to sow Kale seeds is between the months of March and June. Harvesting is best done between February and May. Sow seedlings thinly 13mm (1/2 in) deep in seed beds of 15cm (6in) rows apart. Water well in dry weather and conserve soil moisture with mulch.
When plants show five or six true leaves, transplant the young plants to their growing position, setting the lowest leaves at ground level. The day before moving, be sure to water the plants well. Once moved, ‘puddle’ the plants with plenty of water leaving at least 45cm (18in) between plants. Protect the precious plants by covering with netting or fleece to stop birds from destroying the leaves.
When harvesting from October onwards, remove the leaves from the top of the plant. Ready for use from February to May, sideshoots form after the harvest of the main crown. Pick shoots that are 10-15cm (4-6in) long and young. When the plants are 5cm (2in) high, a cut-and-come-again crop harvest allows young leaves to be produced that can be cut again.
Kale can tolerate a range of soil conditions that many other crops struggle with. It will grow as long as the soil is free draining and full of nutrients. The quality of the leaves picked depends of the growing position and how it is prepared in the run up to the harvest. For a well-cared plant, expect to pick up 1KG of Kale.
For the best quality leaves, a sunny spot is preferable although a part-shaded one will produce a harvest of satisfactory quality. Kale’s growing position is best prepared over the previous winter with a generous amount of well-rotted manure or home-made compost.
For soil that is more acidic, lime will also need to be added to lower the PH until it is mildly alkaline – around 6.5. Maximise the available space by planting Kale on from early summer crop such as potatoes. Before planting, be sure to apply a dressing of organic fertiliser a week or two before planning time – pelleted chicken manure is ideal for this.
Seeds can be started off in outdoor seedbeds sown into drills 1cm deep. Seedlings should be spaced thinly along rows with 15cm left between each row. Aid germination by keeping the bed moist and covering the seeds, for roughly 10 days.
When using limited space, sow seeds in modular trays or 7cm pots, sowing a few seeds per module. Use multipurpose compost for sowing, keeping seedlings in a bright position, which stops them becoming drawn and leggy.
Seedlings kept moist will grow steadily. If they are allowed to dry out, this will cause unnecessary stress for the young plants leading to poorer specimens. The plants will be ready to transplant into their growing positions in June or July. Only four to six leaves will be viable at this time and will be roughly 15cm tall.
Caring for Kale
Kale care is easy, in dry weather ensure the soil is kept moist. The regular removal of weeds will help plants grow unhindered. Applying a mulch of organic matter in really hot weather will help lock in moisture and give weeds a tough time by depriving light.
Grow your own Kale now!