Kale fails

It’s the time of year when gardeners are reaching for seeds and planning their gardens for the year ahead. Kale was one of my favourite vegetable crops last year. It’s nutritious, low maintenance, hardy and bountiful. I know it’s not everyones cup of tea and I can understand why; the bags for sale in the supermarket are often tough and bitter. In Mark Diacono’s book ‘Veg Patch‘ he says,

“You might also consider planting at least one vegetable that you actively dislike, or think you dislike. The likelihood is you’ll offer at least a begrudging acceptance that your hated veg is in fact not bad at all. This is partly because the bond between grower and growee confers upon you the pride of the parent but largely because you’ll have the harvest as it should be – at its peak, which is often alarmingly dissimilar to it’s shop-bought brother”.

So if kale isn’t something you are keen on do consider growing a small patch in your garden because homegrown is better in every way. Enough of the kale sales pitch, on to the main point of this post. Mistakes! Although we had a great harvest there were a couple of mistakes I made that turned a low maintenance crop into a high maintenance one.

No netting

I read about nettling kale but decided not to do it [face palm]. The main reason for netting is to keep cabbage white and small white butterflies off the plants. They lay eggs then caterpillars hatch and eat the leaves. I thought at worst I’d be picking off a couple of caterpillars every few days. I was wrong. These caterpillars were prolific, growing and eating kale quickly.

Pot with caterpillars inside

Black and yellow: cabbage white butterfly caterpillars

Green: white butterfly caterpillars

Yellow and grey caterpillar

Young cabbage white caterpillars

The first sign of trouble was yellow eggs. I picked them off as they started to appear but I obviously wasn’t getting all of them because the number of caterpillars started to increase. They were good at hiding too…

Green caterpillar on kale leaf

So if you take one thing away from this post let it be netting! If the butterflies can’t land on the kale they can’t lay eggs.

Planting too close together

Our garden is quite small so I planted the kale a little closer together than recommended in order to squeeze more in. This was fine until the kale reached full size and the rows became walls!

Closely growing kale plants

The wall of kale was an all-you-can-eat buffet because overlapping leaves made it easy for the caterpillars to move from one plant to the other. More space would have made the problem easier to control. I think this lesson applies to most plants for both pests and diseases.

It’s not all bad

Handfuls of curly kale

Despite the caterpillar situation we had a fantastic crop which kept coming for months. If you don’t net your kale it’s not the end of the world but do expect to put a bit more time in to pest control. As long as I had a quick look each day it was manageable. I’d pick off new eggs and remove any caterpillars I could see, it didn’t take long. When the season is in full swing most of us are out in the garden each day watering or harvesting anyway.

I like sharing garden updates full of healthy, happy plants but I also think it’s important to talk about things that don’t so well so that other people can learn from my mistakes. If you’re planning on growing kale year this year I hope these points help! Kale is rewarding to grow and you’ll be amazed at how many meals you can sneak it in to.

2 Comments

  1. Ray Cunningham

    How do I kill the worms and eggs that are in the under side of the leaves?
    They put a Hurtin on my collards now moving on to my kale
    I have sprayed but there are tons of eggs

    • Hi Ray. I found scraping the eggs off and picking off the caterpillars very effective – the trick here though was to keep doing it in order to avoid them multiplying and growing! If you have any leaves that are heavily covered in eggs, it might be worth taking that leaf off completely. I’m not sure if there are any sprays that would only target the eggs I’m afraid. Good luck!

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