QUESTION: It gets warm where I live in the summer. How do you keep kale from bolting? – Tina K.
ANSWER: If your kale plant is bolting early, there is not a lot that you can do to stop the process. However, if you nip the flower head off, the plant will most likely develop more flowering side shoots that you can harvest and eat them like you would sprouting broccoli. Both the flowerheads and the unopened buds are quite tasty. Harvest and eat up all the young leaves while you can and make the most out of your kale plant even though it has started bolting. You might even decide that you like eating the flowerheads more than regular kale leaves. However, even if you do develop a fondness for kale flowers, you will still want to avoid letting future plants flower, as flowering kale has a much less impressive nutrient structure than traditional kale.
To prevent kale plants from early bolting in future growing seasons, get your kale plants in the ground a few weeks early by starting your plants in early spring for a late spring harvest or in late summer for a fall harvest. Kale likes to switch into flower mode when soil temperatures get too high, so adding mulch and groundcover to the area will help keep the soil cool and help with moisture retention. In addition to mulch, watering regularly and keeping the soil consistently moist will also prevent the soil from getting too hot.
Kale plants will bolt naturally in their second year shortly after the winter ends and warm weather returns. When you start to see signs of bolting, act quickly and harvest the leaves one last time before it’s too late. As the weather warms up, keep an eye on the central stalk for signs of bolting. Signs include the stalk quickly shooting up taller, leaves beginning to branch out from the stalk a good distance above the cluster, and the central stalk shooting up well above the cluster of leaves at its base. All of these signs mean that your kale is about to go to seed.
When kale begins to bolt, the leaves become more tough and bitter, and suffer a diminished nutrient count. If you think your kale is bolting, pick the leaves immediately, before they have before they begin to change texture and flavor. Lightly massaging the leaves can help restore some of the sweetness that might have been lost. Even after the leaves have turned bitter, the flowers the plant produces are pretty tasty, and can be eaten like you would broccoli florets.
If you end up with more leaves than you can use in one meal, toss them into a plastic bag and store them in the dehumidifier drawer of your refrigerator. They will keep them for about a week stored in this way. You can easily make kale chips for snacking by taking the chip-sized leaves, seasoning them, and quickly broiling them in your oven for only a few minutes until they are nice and crispy.
If you have a large amount of kale, you can dry it in a dehydrator or your oven to preserve it for longer and keep it as chunks to add to your dishes, crumble a bit as a garnish or to flavor your dishes, or crush it into a powder to season your dishes or to add to smoothies.