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Growing Kale in the Tropics

Kale recently gained popularity among the diet-conscious or those trying to lose some extra pounds. Its combined high- nutrients/ fiber  and low-calorie content makes it an excellent choice for juicing,  mixed with other fruits and vegetables.   While it is normally grown in temperate zones,   the good news is that we can also grow kale even in tropical countries like the Philippines.

How to Grow Kale in the Tropics

There are several  varieties of kale but the one that is most popular with urban growers in the Philippines is the tuscan kale (see photos), also known by other names like lacinato kale, dinosaur kale or Italian kale.  Growing the tuscan kale is relatively easy.  Start the seeds in a tray or any recycled cup punched with holes at the bottom for drainage.  Germination normally starts within 5- 8 days.  However during summer months, germination may take longer than expected.   Expose the seedlings gradually to sunlight, starting with 2 hours per day. When the seedlings are at least 3 inches tall, you may  transplant the seedlings in a pot or on the soil bed.    For bigger and more abundant leaves, use a deep container with at least 12 inches of  width.

Plant Care and Maintenance

The soil needs to be consistently moist and rich with organic matter. During cooler months, place the container in an area that gets at least 6 hours of morning sun per day.  In summer, provide some dappled shade, especially to protect the leaves from being sun scorched. Water regularly and deeply, or whenever the soil feels dry.  The scorching heat can  stunt the growth of their leaves, so consider providing some afternoon shade or mulching for the soil.

For healthier leaves, fertilize every month with compost material or any organic fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen.  Kale belongs to the cabbage or brassica family. As such, it is commonly prone to cabbage worms and the leaf miner.  Spray organic pesticides only at night or late in the afternoon after the sun sets. Optionally, use a netting cover to ward off winged pests.

Harvesting the leaves

The best time to grow Kale in the tropics is during the dry and cooler months from November to February.   During this time, the leaves are  more tender and juicy. Tuscan kale produces large leaves that can grow up to 12 -18 inches in length, from stem to tip.

Depending on the weather,  leaves are usually ready for harvest  in as early as 60 days. Harvesting can be done by cutting some mature leaves starting at the lowest part of the stalk.  As an annual, the plant will continue to grow new leaves for at least a year.  To encourage new leaves, do not cut off the top part or bud of the plant.  Harvest the leaves in the morning, when they are more tender.   Kale is typically a cool weather plant, so our warm summer weather adversely affects the growth of new leaves.  In extremely hot conditions,  the texture of the leaves may become hard and dry.

Tags: Vegetables

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