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Kale survived record-breaking cold unprotected!

Kale was the first plant I started to grow in our Urban Potager 10 yrs ago. 

I am planting more kale this spring. I have been experimenting with growing food in the winter months within our zone 5 garden for a decade. It keeps evolving as to what I do as I  learn and observe what works for “my unique” growing environment. I can try what others do, but my microclimate is unique to my area I live in; an urban area so it is sheltered by many buildings which means I can grow earlier and later than people that live out in rural areas.  I know several people that live out on farms outside our metropolis, and they are a month later ( or more)  in starting crops outside.


This is one of the advantages of growing in a city for you have protection from high winds and extremes in both summer and winter. Often the soil warms up earlier in the spring and freezes much later in the winter.  In your own small space, you have warmer and colder zones. I can push a stick in the ground even today and go down at least 5 inches and other places it is frozen solid! Know your growing area, and you can grow many crops longer than those that live out in open areas. Our kale this year has been surviving “breaking cold records” for Illinois.Maybe I should let some of my plants go to seed to have seed acclimated to these harsh temps. If I can keep the plants alive that long!

Today I am harvesting some Kale for my vegetable egg rolls. I was experimenting this winter to see which “types of Kale” would last through our winter unprotected in the garden beds.  Our winter weather dips typically below zero but usually, it warms up after a few days, and our Kale thaws out.

IMG_1729-blue-scotch-kale-2018-jan  Over the years, I have been looking for food sources that do not require a lot of work to keep going in the fall-winter. I don’t have the space to set up a greenhouse. I would lose too much-growing area. However, I can cover my winter crops with plastic. I just got busy this fall and did not get back to setting the beds up with protection. Well, out of my neglect, I decided to trial ALL of my kale without a cover! I have learned over the years how to utilize a situation to my advantage. LOL

Kale is a fantastic food source for late winter growing in our zone. It is still growing despite the extreme weather, but I did not plant enough plants to provide greens into early spring. I have left plants in the beds until early spring, and they start leafing out. I feel Dwarf ( curled) Blue Scotch and Scarlet open-pollinate kale re the best for winter growing. They can tolerate extreme cold and be snow covered. I am trying Redbor( not open-pollinated) this year. I like red kale types due to their healthy anthocyanins (read more about anthocyanins here)

The best part about Kale is it can be used in many recipes. At this time of year, most of our greens come from California or Mexico. I no longer have to depend on Kale being grown miles away. I can provide most of my kale throughout the year from my Urban Potager. Unlike lettuce, which I am trying to grow in my Urban Potager or source locally in our area or state. I have found several farms a few hours from my house that grow lettuce hydroponically or in greenhouses. I am planning to shelter space in our Urban potager where it might be possible to grow some lettuce greens year round. I have one area protected near our house and with southern exposure. I just need to figure out how I can make it happen after January. Previous years, I have been able to grow some winter lettuce until about early December. It will be something to explore this year and plan for next winter.


Right now, Kale is my go to green in the middle of winter. It is a workhorse when it comes to handling harsh winters. I hope to have more growing in our winter garden next year.

Time to get growing for 2018!!!! Happy Gardening Everyone. It will be a great year!


14 replies »

  1. I’m impressed you still are harvesting kale! My son wants a hoop house for winter greens. I expect one of these years, he’ll build it. I’d love to have our own kale and romaine. 🙂

    • Kale would be a good choice. I have found Lacinato Kale does okay but shuts down once the weather dips below freezing. I have found Curly Blue Scotch Kale to be the best for winter growing. There are some seed growers breeding for winter hardiness. I also like Scarlet kale I’ve harvested all winter from these two. I have no doubt he can keep Kale growing. With a hoop house for sure:-)

  2. Oh Robbie, what a great post! I love it that you have such great veg in the winter. Could you grow Brussels Sprouts? They survive very low temperatures and in fact need frost to improve the flavour. I used to grow one called Red Ball. What do you think? I could send you seed 😊x X

    • Hi Karen, So good to hear from it has been too long!!! Good to see you out and about blogging and in the garden. I have been absent a bit too I am back and hope to get more posts out this year. I have tried to grow brussel sprouts but my timing was off a bit. I decided a few years ago to only grow Kale and tatsoi in our Urban Potager due to timing and lack of space. I have radicchio out there where I would have brussels sprouts . It stays alive throught the witer after I place it out fall. It is surfacing now and starting to head up. I wish I had more space for I would love to have your seeds and would grow a BIG bed of brussels sprouts. I love the vegetable!

      • Sorry…I got a bit carried away for a minute there! Brussels Sprouts are quite a lot of work and they tie up a lot of ground for a long time. You also have to net them to protect from cabbage white butterflies and stake them against the wind. What was I thinking of???🤔
        I so wish that I could grow the Historic pansies here…..I tried, but with so much rain they all became diseased. I love seeing yours! X x

      • aww…thanks Karen. I have some under lights right now. I sure do love them but have to plant the historic pansies in a shaded spot. I look forward to visiting your blog! Yours is one of my favorites:-)

  3. I grow ragged jack kale which tolerates our wet winter well here in Ireland. I leave it to flower as the bumbles love the flowers and then leave what plants i can to self seed, so i never have to plant it. I have also found that many of the finches love the seed, so it is a winner all around.

    • Now that is a great idea! Mine do come back from the bottom and will go to seed if I let them. However, they do not look so pretty in our small urban potager. I need more space:-( I have to make decisions as to what I can an can’t grow. I wish I could grow so many more vegetables! I do practice succession planting but even with that I run out of space-LOL-never an empty spot in the garden all year!

      • Yes, I know. and yes it does mess a bit with succession planning too when they come up at random!! In fact I have one growing by my front step at the moment:)

  4. Wow! I remember when I still tried to garden through the Northern winters and set up a small cold frame with an old window – easy – you could just use hay bales – and had greens through the winter though not planned enough to reach full potential. I still remember that kohlrabi survived! I love cabbages and wonder how they would do for you being in the same family and all. A cold frame might work for you, too. Nice looking kale you got there! I would say you’re kaling it Robbie! Ha ha ha.

    • LOL…too funny!! I have been looking at cold frames and they are on my wish list, a bit pricey. I need to make some but have not figured wher eto put them. Every inch is precious for growing year round:-) I should get some hay and windows, good idea. I have seen it done by a lot of people. There was a lady in our city growing raised beds with heavy hay around them and she was harvesting most of the winter. She got cited for an “unattractive” garden. It was an old city lot and the city did not like her messy beds. UGH….but it did work. I have some sheltered areas with just mimnum cover, I believe I should be good to go. Tatsoi or spinach have done well for me too:-)

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