Kale is one of those rewarding plants that I love growing. It grows fast. It produces a ton of food. It’s attractive in the garden. But, knowing what variety you’d most enjoy can be a bit overwhelming. I grew eight varieties in 2021. Let’s break them down!
Red Russian is a fairly common variety that you’ll find in leaf lettuce seed mixes. The stems are red with heavily lobed green leaves. Honestly, I have no love for this plant. In the spring, it grew great, but as soon as that heat of summer hits it, the leaves begin to get deformed. The veins become thick. Used as a baby green, it’s fine, but, any of the hardier kales will produce baby greens. You won’t like hearing this, but skip it!
Bear Necessities was one of those interesting looking kale with wispy veining that created a fluffy appearance to the leaves. Quickly you’re going to realize that this is an offshoot of Red Russian. Same issues, but worse! The veiny, barren leaves are difficult to eat. Summer heat will nuke the plant and deform it. I was so excited by the uniqueness of this one, but in the end- a huge disappointment.
Dinosaur kale seems to be one of the other popular varieties for home gardens. It grew great. These are monsters, expect at least 3’ tall plants. The leaves are large and deep green. The single thick stem makes removal fast and easy. This type of kale is a heavy producer and handles the heat of summer like a champ. If you want a tried-and-true kale- Dino is a safe bet.
One of the newcomers was Dazzling Blue. As this matured, you can easily see this is an offshoot of Dinosaur. Bright purple veining on blue-green leaves. This one, too, was a tall grower but a bit narrower. Leaves strip from the stem easily. Really, the only difference between it and Dinosaur was the color of the plant. If you want something just a bit different, Dazzling Blue was a great kale and made it into 2022 plans.
Java lol Nero is yet another variety of Dinosaur. This one was smaller, topping out half as large as the before mentioned kales. The darker leaves look moody and goth. Great little plant for smaller spaces but still performs well with numerous, albeit smaller leaves. I’m willing to forfeit space for some of the large kales so, while I won’t be growing it, I do recommend it.
Green and Scarlet Winterbore have been staples in my gardens for years. I love the curly kales for all the texture they provide. The green variety generally is a shorter, squattier plant with long, full leaves. They need a bit more horizontal space than the scarlet variety that can be 2-3 times taller. Both are great performers in all seasons, even winter. These are especially adept at handling the cold temps in zone 5 that get well below freezing. I strongly recommend these for northern growers- you can leave them in the ground all winter and harvest as needed.
The last one I grew, Casper, was supposed to be a variegated curly kale. It grew well, but when Summer came around, something… happened… I’m not up to snuff on my plant diseases. Maybe it was powdery mildew? Maybe it was spider mites? The entire plant looked like it was stuck in a dust storm. It never got the white variegation. I yanked it out since it was next to all the other kales. No other kales looked like that. So, as beautiful as Casper might have been, maybe avoid it for some of the tougher ones above.
Recommended Kale: Dinosaur, Dazzling Blue, Green Bore, Scarlet Bore
Kale to Avoid: Red Russian, Bear Necessities, Casper