The Barefoot Gardener: Joy of Kale

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Kale flourishes in full sun and lots of compost. Shown here in the author’s gardens in the company of bush beans, red leaf lettuce, and marigolds. PC: J.M. Buck

Were you one of those kids who would do or say anything so as not to have to eat the strange green stuff on your dinner plate? I was.

I remember insisting that if I ate the steamed kale my mother served, I would surely die. And I remember Mom responding to my not-quite-real tears with: “Eat it. Now. It’s good for you.”

When I finally took a bit, it actually tasted pretty good. I was just freaked out by the concept of eating waterlogged plant matter.


Well, Mom was right. Kale is good for you. A member of the Brassica family (which includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collards) and endemic to Asia Minor, kale has gained a reputation as a “powerhouse health vegetable” due to its high levels of vitamins K, A, E and C along with numerous other vitamins and minerals. Kale contains more calcium than dairy products. Actually, many dark green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, contain high levels of calcium—great news for those who are lactose intolerant.

Other benefits of kale include high levels of antioxidants, which are essential building blocks for a healthy immune system. Kale is also packed with sulfur-containing phytonutrients, elements that cancer research has discovered may reduce the likelihood of several types of cancer by triggering enzymes that help counter the effects of carcinogens. Kale is high in fiber, low in calories, has no saturated fat, and occurrence of food allergies to kale is rare.

For more info on kale’s vitamin and mineral content and its health benefits, go online.


Growing kale is quite easy, and with its dark green leaves it makes an attractive addition to any garden. There are a number of varieties to choose from. Some have curly leaves; others have brightly colored stems and veins. All require basically the same growing conditions.

Kale grows best in cooler conditions, doing very well in higher elevation gardens. It can, however, be grown almost anywhere on the Big Island.

This robust vegetable enjoys full sun, a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, and lots of compost. An organic 10-5-5 fertilizer will benefit the plants; however, you can go purist by planting bush beans between kale rows to add nitrogen, use crushed eggshell or oyster shell for calcium, and phosphorus from fish meal.


Some folks like to use bone meal as a source of phosphorus. One caveat on using bone meal though: there have been reports of some commercial bone meal being tainted with mad cow disease. I personally stay away from the stuff.

Be sure to space plants well—about 16-inches apart to insure adequate air circulation.

Young kale leaves are tasty when used raw in salads. Older leaves are better cooked. Here’s a quick and tasty recipe for kale: sauté chopped kale, diced onion, a couple dashes of salt and pepper, and a clove of sliced garlic in a little olive oil for about ten minutes. Wrap the mix in a buttered whole grain tortilla and—voila! Lunch!

As for trying to get your kids to eat kale, the above recipe may work, unless they’re as fussy as I was…

Happy gardening!

J.M. Buck
J.M. Buck has been a Hawai‘i news writer and columnist since 2003. She has extensive writing experience and has served the media industry in a variety of capacities, including news editor, investigative reporter, online publisher, columnist, web content writer, graphic designer and photographer. She has lived in the Hawaiian Islands for most of her life and is a graduate of University of Hawai‘i.
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