If saving seeds is your thing, try doing it with friends! Be sure to read the Seed Swap section of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. Don’t have your own copy? Click below to see what it’s about! If you’d like to read a sample from the book, just email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com. Be sure to let me know it’s the Seed Swap section you’re interested in. With eight chapters of homesteading how-to’s and over 400 pages of homesteading information, there’s bound to be a lot that will interest you!
Why Plant Kale?
The much heralded kale isn’t just trendy, it’s tremendous!
Kale as Food
May I just tell you that kale chips are a pleasantly good snack. To do this:
- Washed a bowl full of chopped kale.
- Toss in enough cold pressed olive oil to coat the leaves.
- Add a dash of sea salt and a bit of cayenne and mix together.
- Lay the kale out evenly without touching on dehydrator racks .
- Dehydrate on the living foods setting (around 105F) to make an incredible raw kale chip.
Bon Appetit has a concise article on the various kind of kale to consider for different recipes.
Kale as a Plant
Kale is a biennial, meaning it needs two years to fully complete it’s life cycle. Most people grow it only as an annual, but to save the seed, simply leave it in your garden to over-winter.
Kale is very cold hardy and will grow with relative ease in the garden. Once November hit our region, I covered my kale plants with horticultural plastic. Winter winds shredded my two year old horticultural plastic and December found my lovely kale naked and exposed.
Amazingly, they did just fine with a thick mulch of straw on their feet for the rest of winter. They would get frozen but once the sun warmed them, their turgidity returned.
This spring , my kale was the first plant out of the starting gate, long before anything else was awake. We were able to harvest leaves all season, even while it sent up its seed stalk, flowered and set seed.
Pests rarely ultimately destroy kale. When things are in balance, you may not even notice bad bugs on your plants, except maybe some aphids. We had once year when Brassica moths ate every single leaf on my plants but, after they moved on with the season, the kale plants bounced right back with new growth. These plants are amazing!
What Kind of Kale Seed to Save?
All the kales create seed in the same way, so you can save seed easily from any of them.
If you have two or more varieties planted and they flower at the same time, be prepared for a little cross breeding. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you might become famous for your kale original seed! If you don’t want to cross varieties, plant one variety this year and another variety next year.
Last fall, I planted Vates and Red Russian kale, from which we harvested leaves throughout the fall and into the winter.
Seeds for Generations carries a Lacinato kale that can trace its origins to Tuscany – mangia! Click here to see its seed profile on their site.
For some notoriety, try growing the walking stick kale featured in the Giant’s Garden section of Sharon Lovejoy’s children’s gardening book, Roots, Boots, Buckets and Shoots. This kale grows several feet tall and has a very straight stem which can, in reality, be turned into a walking stick.
Saving Kale Seed
Being a member of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, etc.), kale is very much obliged to set seed for you, especially once the spring weather warms to summer.
How Long from Seed to Seed?
As I said, kale is a biennial so it will require two years to set seed. This can be an imposition with some plants because they take up space in the garden for two years. However, with kale, you can keep harvesting the leaves the whole time.
Once the flower/seed stalks shoot up in the second year, the flavor of the leaves can change, FYI. I don’t like to eat it raw at that point, but it’s still yummy in soups. Regardless, it’s exciting to see the flowers bloom since I know that the seed is coming! This is the easiest seed save of my gardening year and I love it.
In fact, kale seed is so simple to save that it’s perfect for new seed savers and even kids. If you have a children’s garden, be sure to have them plant kale one spring and harvest seed in the summer or fall of the following year. If you don’t have a children’s garden, please read this.
The Seed Stalks
Each plant will send up stalks that can get quite tall. Our tallest this year measured somewhere between a three and a five-year-old child.
The stalks are a bit brittle and in high wind will detach from the mother plant. Sadly, this can happen before the seed has time to mature. If you’ve got stalks breaking off, tie up the stalks around a stake of bamboo for support.
The Seed Pods
Once the green seed pods (which look like small, skinny green beans) have fattened up and started to dry out, move fast to get the seed preserved. If you wait, the seed will drop anywhere it pleases to reseed itself in your yard. Sometimes your neighbor’s yard, if the birds or wind get involved.
The Seed Saving Process
- Once the seed pods are ripe and beginning to dry out, cut the stalks at the bottom of the plant.
- Then, invert them into a large paper bag and wait for them to dry the rest of the way.
- Hang the paper bags (paper is best because it breathes) some place where they won’t get too hot and won’t be exposed to dust or wind.
- If you’re in a place prone to summer humidity, just do a few stalks per bag so that you don’t end up with mold.
- Once you feel like the pods have finished drying, flail (or bang) the stalks against the side of the bag to dislodge the seeds.
- Toss the dried stalks into your compost or see if your goats will eat them. (Be prudent with raw Brassicas fed to your ruminants as too much can cause bloat – the dried stalks should be fine.)
- Start winnowing out the chaff by dumping the contents of your bag either through a screen or onto a sheet.
Kale seeds are small, dark and round. They are usually easy to distinguish in the midst of all the dried out seed casings and aphid corpses that will also be in residence at the bottom of the brown paper bag.
More on Winnowing your Kale Seed
The word “winnow” means to clean away all the chaff (seed casings and gunk) from your seed.
To filter the seeds from the chaff you can use window screening, a mesh strainer, a colander or a very loose weave cheese cloth. Really anything that will allow the small seed to fall through, but trap the larger particles of “stuff” will work just fine.
You can also just dump them onto a white sheet and call seed cleaning a Family Night activity!
To see the process of this (although it’s with leek seeds), click here.
A Special Note on Aphids
Aphids can be a nuisance on Brassicas but they don’t usually harm the seed. They can easily be controlled with a strong jet of water from your hose. With soft-bodied, plant-killing insects, a few hours away from their food source and they die.
Even if you harvest your seed stocks with a few aphids, they wont live long enough to do any damage to the seed, even if they could.
Learn more garden tricks and keep great notes on your garden each year with The Gardening Journal – just click below to learn more.
How to Store Kale Seed
How much kale seed do you get? That entirely depends on how many seed stocks your plant sends up and how much seed you take time to save. We’ve saved hundreds of seed from one plant.
Needless to say, you will probably have enough for most backyard gardening purposes.
You will have copious amounts of seed so make sure you have paper envelopes and/or glass jars handy to store and label the seed. I like paper envelopes for ease of storage, but prefer jelly jars with lids for ease of sorting, identifying and using. I use both since I can’t commit fully to either method.
Ideally, you would be taking generous seed samples from multiple of the best plants you have in order to preserve beautiful biodiversity. If you’re like me, you’ll just thank your lucky stars that you remembered to save out even one or two plants for seeds as you ravenously consumed every kale leaf in sight the season before.
Random Kale Seed Notes
Seed saving is something I’m still learning to do even after several years of practice. It’s also one more thing to factor into the planning of the garden each year. Much like a plant, sometimes I thrive and sometimes my brain wilts.
- Like I said, kale will cross pollinate with other brassicas and, therefore, with itself. My Vates flowered later than my Red Russian so I’m hoping I didn’t cross too badly, if at all.
- As far as the varieties go, of the two, I liked the Vates the best. Vates has great flavor, tidy leaves, not too much curling/ruffling, is hardy and pretty.
- The Red Russian was also very hardy and had lovely red undertones. However, it wasn’t quite as good in salads because it’s a little on the tough side when raw. I’m saving the seed, though, because in stir fries and soups it was yummy. The Scotch is a great one, too, and so is the Dinosaur kale. Basically, I haven’t met a kale I didn’t like.
What Seed Are You Saving?
So what seed are you saving this year? If the thought of doing any seed saving is new to you, don’t worry, that’s why God invented next year.
If you’re entirely new to gardening or still getting your feet wet, I highly recommend the two different levels of gardening in our book The Do It Yourself Homestead. With 400 pages of homesteading information, including gardening (of course), all presented in four different levels of experience, you’re bound to find something helpful to you! But don’t just take my word for it – here’s what fellow garden nerd and author Chris MacLaughlin has to say:
The cover photo of the kale plant is gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user; the cover photo of the kale flower is gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user. The alternate pin image is attributed to Wikimedia Commons user.