The Self-seeding Power of Kale

Let one kale plant go to seed and you'll have an abundance of kale seedlings for your vegetable garden

Credit: Carol Pope

‘Red Russian’ kale that has self-seeded in a container garden with Italian parsley, chives and a ‘Brown Turkey’ fig tree

Let one ‘Red Russian’ kale plant go to seed and you’ll have an abundance of this healthy garden green

During a recent chat about foraging for “volunteer food” with David Catzel of the inspiring Glorious Organics Cooperative – where they are harvesting “weeds” along with their lettuce and other greens for delicious and super-healthy salad mixtures for customers – I was amused to hear him refer to kale as a “weed.”

Along with sheep sorrel, wood sorrel, shepherd’s purse, dandelion, oxeye daisy, chickweed, peppercress, watercress, lamb’s quarters and purslane, Catzel says that ‘Red Russian’ kale is part of their wild-greens mixture because it “self-seeds like a weed.”

Sharon Hanna, author of The Book of Kale: The Easy-To-Grow Superfood, agrees, saying in her book that “‘Red Russian’ self-seeds like there’s no tomorrow and withstands very cold temperatures.”

I’ve long known this to be true, because these welcome volunteers spring up steadily throughout my garden, growing into thick mats even in the wintertime. Daily I snip the green kale carpets with my kitchen scissors for quick salads or stir-fry greens.

Managing Self-seeding Kale in Your Garden

If kale sprouts where I don’t want it, I simply nudge the seedling out with my fingers and pat it into the ground elsewhere, or slide my shovel under a swath and replant it wherever I have some blank soil that needs a filler.

Naturally, given enough space, each volunteer has the potential to grow to a mature plant, providing delicious greens through any season of the year, then budding and flowering with lovely bee-supporting yellow blossoms, and finally culminating with a frenzied mass of twisting pods full of tiny round seeds ready to take root in your garden.

Ironically, I recently planted a couple hundred kale seeds in deep-root seed-starting trays, and achieved about a 95 per cent germination rate from all of the different kale varieties, except for the ‘Red Russian’, which – despite my tender care – responded with only a sulky 10 per cent showing.

Meanwhile, I have hundreds of vibrant ‘Red Russian’ volunteer starts in my garden beds, including the mass shown in the above photo of an edible container garden (‘Red Russian’ kale, Italian parsley, chives and a ‘Brown Turkey’ fig tree).

Clearly, this little rebel has a mind of its own . . . and there are no complaints about that at all from a kale lover like me.