Oh Kale Yeah: Growing Kale Indoors


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Kale has become an increasingly popular choice of leafy greens in the last decade. And why not? This nutrient-dense veggie pairs well with almost every meal. Sandwiches, pizza, pastas, soups, smoothies – you name it – you can integrate kale into all of them. 

And while it’s fun to eat kale throughout the year, it doesn’t grow well outdoors in many places. It’s a cool-season vegetable that can typically handle some frost in its adult form, but areas with more extreme cold weather temperatures aren’t always ideal for growing kale.

Instead of worrying about the time of year to plant kale, grow your own inside! You don’t have to worry about planting after the last frost. And if you live in a city or somewhere with less outdoor gardening space, growing kale indoors can be the perfect solution. These plants are surprisingly easy to grow inside, they can be a great way to supplement your grocery budget, and their many-shaded leaves can be the perfect accent for any home.

Let’s dive into the exciting world of growing kale indoors.

man holding kale
Photo by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

Can Kale Be Grown Indoors?

While kale is traditionally grown outside, it’s possible – and even easy – to grow kale indoors all year-round. With proper lighting, soil, and nutrients, you can grow mature kale, baby kale, and even kale microgreens in a small indoor space.

Growing Kale Indoors (In A Nutshell)

Here are all the things you’ll need to start growing kale indoors. We’ll break down these individually in the article. But here are the basics:

  • kale seeds – common varieties listed below
  • grow lights or another light source that gives kale full light during the day
  • potting for seeds
  • fertilizer
  • water
  • planting medium (potting soil/potting mix works fine for most situations)
  •  

What Is Kale?

This green superfood is in the cole crop family of the species Brassica oleracea, and shares some similarities with non-heading cabbage, swiss chard. A decade ago, kale was mainly grown in the U.S. as a garnish on dishes, but this changed once we started to learn the health benefits of actually eating the leafy vegetable.

What Does Kale Look Like?

There are several varieties of kale – each with specific distinguishing features and sizes. One of the most common types sold in American grocery stores is called Common Curly Kale (or just curly kale), which has light green spines (the stem through the middle of the leaf), and ribs (steps that run through the leaves). Check out these most common types of kale:

Types of Kale 

  • Common Curly Kale – This is a typical American variety with a range of bluish-green color in the leaves – with the edges of the leaves frilling at the end.
  • Lacinato Kale (includes Dinosaur Kale and Tuscan Kale) – This kale has longer, darker leaves (unlike most common varieties).
    • Thomas Jefferson grew this type of kale in his garden.
  • Dwarf blue curled – Dwarf varieties are often more manageable than other, larger varieties, which can grow up to two feet when they’re mature. Dwarf varieties are recommended if you’re planning to grow your kale on a windowsill or balcony.
  • Red Russian – This variety of kale is known for being semi-sweet and tasting good raw. 

Here’s a breakdown of types of kale and links to buy seeds.

Kale ImageKale VarieityPurchase Seeds
common curly kaleCommon Curly KalePurchase Seeds
lacinato kaleLacinato Kale (Dinosaur Kale, Tuscan Kale)Purchase Seeds
salad savoySalad Savoy (Ornamental)Purchase Seeds
red russian kaleRed Russion (Ragged Jack)Purchase Seeds
Chinese KaleChinese Kale (Kailaan, Gai Lan, Chinese Broccoli)Purchase Seeds
siberian kaleSiberian KalePurchase Seeds
redbor kaleRedbor KalePurchase Seeds
premier kalePremier Kale (Early Hanover) Purchase Seeds
walking stick kaleWalking Stick KalePurchase Seeds

Growing Kale Indoors From Seed

When planting kale seeds, you must sow seeds from 1/4 to 1/2 each deep, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Typically, you should use seed trays for germination that have drain holes. For the growing medium, use either a growing mixture designed for vegetables or a soilless medium that includes perlite or vermiculite. 

Here are some of our favorite types of potting mixes available from Amazon:

When you sow seeds, only put a few of each seed in each container and cover them with about 1/2″ inch of the growing medium you’re using. 

It’s important to keep your seeds warm during this period – close to around 70 degrees F. It can technically germinate as low as 48 degrees F, but lower temperatures will slow down the speed of germination.

If you’re worried about keeping your kale seeds warm enough, consider using a Seedling Heat Mat. They’re affordable and useful for controlling the temperature.

Thinning Kale

We recommend that you thin your kale about ten days after planting, which will help the healthiest sprouts to thrive. For all the plant lovers out there, this may be a difficult step, but it improves the health of your plant and overall harvest.

Thin the kale seedlings so they are between 8 and 12 inches apart. Kale typically takes five to eight days to germinate from a seed. This can sometimes happen faster if you’re using a grow light that allows for more hours of sunlight.

How Many Days Does It Take To Grow Kale

Kale is ready to harvest in about 60 days, depending on the variety. You should wait until the leaves reach about seven inches before harvesting. If you’re interested in growing baby kale, which has a slew of benefits, you can harvest in as little as 25 days.

Check out these 29 veggies that you can harvest in under one month!

Soil

A quality potting soil that’s high in organic matter will work for kale. It needs to be a potting mix that drains well and typically has a pH of 6.0-7.9. Some potting soil options that work well for kale include the following: Gardener’s Potting Mix, Miracle Grow All Purpose Potting Mix, and The Sill Organic Potting Mix. 

If you’re planning on growing the kale in a hydroponic garden, you would be better using a soilless growing medium such as peat moss. This would help keep the soil from getting into the water pump of the hydroponic system. Whatever growing medium you choose, you’ll be harvesting the leaves, so your kale plant must have access to a high amount of nitrogen.

Stay clear of using soil from your garden, which could lack proper nutrition or contain diseases that your kale will be susceptible to. 

You must keep the soil moist when growing kale, as it’s a fast grower. It should never dry out fully.

kale illustration planted in pot and soil

Growing Kale In Containers Indoors

Depending on the variety of kale you choose, the space needed indoors may vary. But even smaller varieties, such as Dwarf Blue Curled varieties, need a 12″ container per plant.  This is quite different from other veggies, such as carrots, which could grow several plants at once in the same 12″ space.

Does Kale Need Direct Sunlight

When growing kale indoors, it should still receive full sun during the day – typically six hours or more, but it can also grow with partial shade, which is four to six hours during the day. One of the best places to get the needed light for your kale plants is in a south-facing window. 

Don’t have a windowsill with access to six hours of light? No problem. Another option for a light source is to get a grow light. Grow lights can help you supplement your plants with natural light during the day.  This artificial light can be an excellent way to give the kale plant the much-needed sun it needs.

Here are some basic grow lights you can use for kale:

Check out the best small grow light options we recommend.

Temperature

Kale is a cool-season leafy green, so you want to keep it on the colder side. The preferred soil temperature for growing kale is approximately 60-65 degrees. That said, a bit of frost can sweeten the taste of kale, so you may want to stick your plants outside if the weather allows.

While cool weather is usually better, too much cold can also be dangerous. If you’re growing kale in a shed or anywhere else with dangerously cold temperatures, here are some grow mat options to help regulate the temperature.

Watering Kale

You want to make sure your soil stays moist but not overly damp. For most growers, this amounts to 1-1.5 inches of water per week. The soil should be noticeably wet – but there should not be standing water in the pot. If you start to see your kale’s leaves turning yellow, it is likely a sign that you’re overwatering it.

Best Fertilizer For Kale

Any balanced fertilizer (like a 10-10-10) will work well for kale, especially a water-soluble fertilizer that you mix with one gallon of water. Typically, you should fertilize your kale every seven to ten days. Here are some top fertilizer options for growing kale indoors.

How to Harvest Kale

You can harvest kale periodically, taking the mature leaves off the plant, which allows the younger leaves to continue growing. The kale leaves will last up to 14 days if you place them in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag.

Growing Kale Hydroponically

If you’re growing kale indoors, it may make sense for you to raise these greens hydroponically. This means that you’re not growing with soil and – instead – are growing the kale using nutrient-rich water distributed along the roots and growing medium. Most countertop hydroponic systems can quickly grow kale and other greens. AeroGarden and Rise Gardens both provide excellent options for growing kale indoors.

Check out the best hydroponics systems for growing kale.

How To Grow Kale Microgreens

Microgreens are young edible greens produced from a vegetable or herb. Research suggests that kale microgreens are an excellent source of potassium, calcium, and antioxidants.

For kale microgreens, you’ll start with a container that you fill to the brim with soil, spray with water to make it moist, and then distribute seeds evenly across the top of the soil. You want to cover the entire surface with the kale seeds. Water the seeds lightly, and then cover them up with aluminum foil to keep out all the light.

After 3-5 days, your kale seeds should have germinated and are ready for sunlight – or you can use an artificial light. You’ll want to continue watering them regularly, but not enough to develop mold.

You should be ready to harvest your kale microgreens just about ten days after planting them. You can use a paring knife to harvest these microgreens.

Here’s a great video that walks you through the steps of growing kale microgreens.

What Is Kale Good For?

This supreme leafy green has been called a superfood. And there’s a lot to be said for it. Kale has antioxidants, calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A (a single cup will give you 200% of your daily requirement), fiber, manganese, copper, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and more.

Here is the full list of nutrients in kale.

nutritional facts of kale per 100g graphics

Benefits of Growing Kale Indoors

Whether you don’t have the space or you’re just craving a kale smoothie during the dead of winter, growing kale indoors is an ideal option. And many varieties of kale look visually appealing, so they can even work as a houseplant. Not only this, but having kale inside means, you can easily access your harvests without taking a trip to the garden.

Kale Pests To Look Out For

One of the benefits of growing indoors is that your plants are protected from most pests. But if a window or a door is ever open, an infestation is still possible. Here are some of the most common pests known to hurt kale:

  • ​Harlequin Bug
  • Imported Cabbage Worm
  • Aphids
  • Gnats
  • Flies
  • Flea Beetles

For help with pests on your kale, start here.

The Big Idea

Kale can be grown in the comfort of your home. It’s an easy plant that you can raise without much time or effort, and it will be sure to provide you and your family with highly nutritious leafy greens throughout the year. Start growing kale today with these easy steps. So whip out your green thumb and get started today!

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Patrick Chism

Patrick likes to pretend that urban gardening is just a hobby, but he’s actually prepping for the apocalypse. He’s a practical grower, specializing in hydroponics systems and grow lights. His dream is to one day feed his family with just the food he grows in his Chicago-based condo.

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