Adventures in Kale: Front Yard Farming

Dorothy Reinhold is publisher, food writer and recipe developer at Shockingly Delicious, where she posts sumptuous, simple-to-prepare, tried-and-true, “scary good” recipes with big flavors. Formerly executive editor of a chain of Southern California newspapers with 25 years in that business, she now “will write for food.” Her writing has appeared in many Southern California newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, Sunset Magazine, America Online and the Taste of Home family of magazines. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter.

This October Unprocessed guest post is also part of International Kale Day! (Okay, so International Kale Day didn’t exist…until now! I hope that you’ll make every October 10 — or every day — Kale Day from now on.)

Growing Kale in your Front Yard

I’m on a mission to get people to think outside the herb box when it comes to their yards.

Sure, it’s easy enough to plunk a basil plant in the garden window for fresh basil nearly all year long, or to sow a little patch of chives in a pot and trim them with a scissors when you need some green confetti to dress up a soup.

And in Southern California and other moderate climates, rosemary grows year ‘round and is used as a landscaping plant, so it’s common for nearly every suburban house to sport a rosemary bush of some kind. This is serendipitous for the enthusiastic home cook.

But I want you to think bigger. Think vegetable garden, think little patch of dirt, and think kale.

I have found kale extremely easy to grow here in Southern California. Last year I planted Lacinato kale (aka dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, Cavolo Nero or black kale) from a 6-plant pony pack, and it took off like wildfire — gorgeous dusty-green, bushy kale plants.

Lemon Garbanzo Kale Salad

As the weeks wore on, I continued to harvest the lower leaves, making a popular lemony kale salad with garbanzos and tuna, a spritely kale salad with creamy avocado and bright blood orange, and a knockoff of a Trader Joe’s kale salad that is better than the original. I also gave lots away.

I even tied some up like a flower bouquet and gave it to a friend who was having us over for dinner.  She said it was the best hostess gift she ever got, and a day later sent this email: “Sautéed your Kale with Olive oil, Kosher Salt, Currants and Pine Nuts. It is all gone… Yum yum!”

Grow Kale in Your Front Yard

We were on a kale bender! And then a funny thing happened. They continued to grow, turning into veritable small kale trees, 5 feet tall. We were in tall! As they flowered, I experimented and left them in the ground, harvesting leaves going on several months. I could have kale in my recipes whenever I wanted, and I threw it in everything – a smoky garbanzo soup, a beans and greens skillet, and morning smoothies.

But my restless gardener soul wasn’t satisfied. Could I perhaps grow different varieties, and where would I put them, anyway? My yard is small, and I thought I was plumb out of room.

One day I was gazing out the front window, though, and looked at my front parkway. You know, the little spot between the curb and the sidewalk, where most of us grow grass. I don’t do grass, but mine is filled with hardy shrubs and whatnot…nothing memorable. It was dirt. Why couldn’t I grow kale there?

I could, and I did. I turned some compost, blood meal, bone meal, peat and other amendments into a patch of parkway dirt, planted a pony pack of a variety called Redbor kale, watered and waited.

Grow Kale in Your Front Yard

It took off immediately, even in that poor-ish soil, and soon I had a small magenta crop of the prettiest purple kale you ever saw. I put a garden marker sign out there to answer the question of what it was, and a little metal temporary fence to distract any passing dogs who might think it looked like a fire hydrant. It worked!

I say seize your land and use it, wherever it is. My neighbors have embraced my new kale “trees” in the front. I’ve heard some of them comment on it as they walk by on their daily constitutional. Passing dogs are simply bored (thank goodness); there hasn’t been even one sprinkle.

Some cities or communities might not be so welcoming. A man in Missouri had to fight city code enforcers for the right to have a productive kitchen garden (or yarden, as he called it) in his front yard. The city of Oakland wanted to fine a woman $2,500 for growing chard in a vacant lot. And bureaucrats in Quebec tried to shut down a couple who tore out their sod and planted a big kitchen garden; tens of thousands of supporters rallied behind the urban farmers.

The benefits of growing your own are that you can be certain the plants are not sprayed with any pesticides, and you control how long the leaves are on the plant, when to harvest, and which varieties to plant.

The downside, of course, is aphids, and sometimes a cabbage worm or two. Pluck off the worms and dispense with them; let your conscience be your guide. I squish them with gusto. The aphids are a bit trickier – they tend to cluster on tender new growth at the top of the plant, so rub them off with your fingers (gross!), spray them off with water, and use my trick of spraying them with some rubbing alcohol. Don’t mess with MY kale, danged bugs!

But I encourage you to embrace the imperfect leaves, the greenery with a bug hole or two. Who cares? Wash it off, chop it up for your salad or soup, and no one is the wiser.

And let me tell you another secret. Kale is the darling of the moment, for all the right nutritional reasons, but kale is in the 13th minute of its 15 minutes of fame. Waiting in the wings are pea shoots. Pea shoots are the new kale.

You heard it here first, and you know what? They’re even easier to grow!

Kale Day Linkup!

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29 Responses to Adventures in Kale: Front Yard Farming

  1. Shirley August 18, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    this article is great. I’ve always wanted to plant kale because my mom and I already have a lemon tree and mint growing nicely.Adding kale would be nice for the cost and being free pesticides for one vegetable.

    • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious August 19, 2013 at 9:02 am #

      Exactly right! You can grow kale without pesticides (don’t worry if there are a few holes from bugs…just wash the leaves and carry on). And it is so convenient to walk out to the garden and pick only as many leaves as you need at the moment.

  2. Meggie July 24, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Hi! There is a group working in both the US and Canada to establish (Inter)National Kale Day for October 2. Check it out

  3. Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    I’ll bet chicken poo is great fertilizer for kale! Just guessing…

  4. Kim October 14, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    I love that you’re using whatever garden space you have to grow your own food! I agree that we’re lucky with the mild Southern CA climate… should make the most out of it!

    I currently have lettuce growing in my front yard, right next to the roses bushes. :-)

    Kale is in the backyard, right next to where the chickens live.

    Now, when is Kale-a-pa-looza?!


  5. Hannah October 11, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Beautiful kale and so inspiring! I love the variety of recipes you shared, too – can’t wait to try some. Happy Kale Day!

  6. Jessica Marie October 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    I have been waiting to have a place where I can have a small garden, but I am getting antsy after reading this. I want my garden now. maybe with my next bit of “fun” money I will get some porch type plants growing. I live in an apartment so I can’t do anything in the so-called yard, but I do have a nice porch.

    • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 12, 2012 at 7:39 am #

      Porch gardening is great! All you need is some sunlight, and the ability to water your plants and have them drain (so if you are on a 2nd or 3rd floor, watch out). Good luck, and I look forward to YOU writing here next year about your success.

  7. Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 11, 2012 at 5:06 am #

    I list my 3 best non-pesticide suggestions in the article near the end. If you have an infestation, you have to keep at it every day. I had a small attack on this kale pictured, but I managed to keep the aphids down to a dull roar with the techniques I mentioned.

  8. Cathy @ She Paused 4 Thought October 10, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    I love kale. When I grew it, I was hit with aphids on an epic scale. Funny enough, they didn’t touch the swiss chard growing next to it. Hmm, I think they are on to something. Any suggestions on getting rid of these little buggers?

    • John October 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      I had to laugh at the pleasure you get out of squishing the pest bugs. Funny as it may look to the neighbors, I’ve been able to somewhat manage existing bug problems by sucking them up with a shop vac. Misting the plants with water and just a few drops of dish soap works as well, but be careful not to make it too strong or you’ll burn the leaves. However, I’ve found that preventing the bugs in the first place is the best approach. You can get insect barrier row cover (like Agribon) from Johnnys or most any seed store. It lets almost all of the sun rays pass through while stopping nearly all the bugs. And with the pvc hoops holding up the cloth, it’s very inexpensive and attractive enough even for front yard gardeners. You can see a picture of it at the bottom of

      • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 12, 2012 at 7:36 am #

        Interesting! Have never heard of Agribon! Just looked at it, and I’m not so sure people would want it in their front yards, but to each his own solution, right?

        Gotta say, squishing aphids is very satisfying.

  9. Laura @ Family Spice October 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I LOVE this! You have inspired me, too! I will definitely plant some kale in our garden!

  10. diabeticFoodie October 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    How does kale do in sandy soil? Actually, “soil” is an exaggeration :)

    • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 10, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      Diabetic Foodie,
      I am not a gardening expert, but I did a quick Google on the question “does kale grow in sandy soil?” and came up with this website, which looks very practical to me.

      I am a “try it!” type girl, so if it were me, I would work compost and a bunch of other things (I list some in the article) into the sandy soil I had, and give it a whirl. I would work the stuff in in the area you want to plant, water heavily, and wait about a week or so for it to settle down. Then I would plant the kale and give it a whirl. Good luck!

  11. Renee October 10, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Great post- I’m inspired! Kale is going into my yard now; and I am getting the plant from a grower at my farmer’s market. Looking forward to trying out several of your recipes. Love it.

    • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 10, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      So glad you found inspiration! I linked up a bunch of kale recipes in the bottom photo array. Check ’em out! You can throw kale into just about anything, to good effect.

  12. Jayne October 10, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Three years ago, I wanted to rip up the gigantic front yard that came with our 1970s ranch house, and replace it with fruit trees and a vegetable garden. My husband was unimpressed with the idea. But last week, he up and said to me, let’s rip up the front yard and plant food next spring. YAY! Our neighbors will be shocked…in fact, some of them will probably want to haul us in front of the planning commission, but I say go ahead and TRY to take away my self-sufficiency, baby! Thanks for the inspiring and validating post –

    • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 10, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      Jayne, you shouldn’t have to go to the slammer just for planting spinach! Seriously, if you Google for images of “front yard farmer” or “front yard garden” you’ll find lots of inspiration for how to do it and make it attractive! Good luck and so glad you want to do this!

  13. Lentil Breakdown October 10, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    Ah, you have inspired me! But I have so many pests, it’s hard to grow basil (and those are just my neighbors).

    • Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 10, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      We can always count on you for a laugh! But seriously…try the kale. You might find that the pests are not as prevalent on it. Amend your soil first though. We have notoriously poor soil here in the housing tracts in So Cal.

  14. Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious October 10, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    You’re welcome! Depending on where you live, you might be able to grow it now and through the winter.

  15. Cheryl October 10, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    Thanks, Dorothy! What a great idea! I’ll try it next spring. In the meantime, I’ll try some kale recipes so I can be ready for my bumper crop!


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