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Russian Red Kale (Brassica napus va pabularia)

Russian Red Kale - Vegetable 

























(Best months for growing Kale in New Zealand - temperate regions)

S = Plant undercover in seed trays T = Plant out (transplant) seedlings

  • Easy to grow. Grow in seed trays, and plant out in 4-6 weeks. Sow seed at a depth approximately three times the diameter of the seed. Best planted at soil temperatures between 8°C and 30°C. (Show °F/in)
  • Space plants: 50 - 100 cm apart
  • Harvest in 7-9 weeks.
  • Compatible with (can grow beside): Dwarf (bush) beans, beets, celery, cucumber, onions, marigold, nasturtium, rhubarb, aromatic herbs (sage, dill, camomile)
  • Avoid growing close to: Climbing (pole) beans, tomato, peppers (chilli, capsicum), eggplant (aubergine), strawberry, mustard

Russian red Kale was originally from Siberia and was introduced to North America, specifically Canada, by Russian traders in 1885. Much larger than regular kale (2 to 3' tall), the stems are purplish and the leaves are shaped like big oak leaves and coloured a velvety gray-green, which turn purple in the winter. It is pretty enough to plant among the flowers. The purple colours become richer after frost, when the flavour becomes sweeter. Surprisingly, the big leaves are very tender and delicious. Kale can be grown on a balcony outdoors all winter. Colder weather improves its flavour.

Being part of the Brassicaceae family, kale is very similar to cabbage. However, it doesn’t form a head, the frilly, robust leaves instead appearing in rosettes from the thick stems.  The leaves are typically way, crinkled or curly, and vary in colour from dark to pale green, purple and red. Some varieties are used in flowering gardens to add extra texture and ornamental colour.

Growing Russian Red Kale

The best times to plant are early in the morning or late in the day, so the plants aren’t exposed to the hot sun straight away. Always water plants well before and after planting. Find a full sun, sheltered position to plant and space at least 30cm-50cm apart, to ensure the crops can fully mature and are not fighting for space, fertiliser and water.

This cultivar has similar requirements to other types of kale. It should be planted in full sun and provided with about half an inch of water a week. However, as with all crops, water more in hotter weather and less in cooler weather. ‘Red Russian’ is cold hardy, just like other varieties. It can tolerate some heat, but it does best in colder conditions.

How to harvest

Whether you transplant or directly seed, baby kale of this variety is ready for harvest 25 days after sowing, and full-sized leaves can typically be harvested after 50 days. One important tip to remember is to only harvest the outer leaves, and never the interior portions of new growth. This allows the plant to continue to produce new leaves, providing you with multiple harvests.

Post harvest, it tends to wilt faster than other greens. To prevent wilting, harvest early in the morning while it is still cool outside. You can then store leaves in a plastic bag or container inside your refrigerator.

Russian and Siberian species and cultivars are sometime left to grow for a second season and their flower buds are harvested and are known as kale rabe or napini.

Nutritional and health benefits

Often referred to as a superfood, kale is a popular leafy green that’s packed full of essential nutrients.

Despite often being grouped in with and compared to spinach, it is actually part of the cabbage family. It’s also considered a Brassica or cruciferous vegetable, along with broccolicauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

Kale is considered a nutrient-dense food as it’s low in calories, yet high in some essential nutrients.

One cup of the raw vegetable contains just 7 calories, and it is an excellent source of two nutrients in particular:


Essential for blood clotting, vitamin K also plays an important role in bone health. One serving provides 68% of the daily value (DV).


In addition to keeping your immune system going strong, vitamin C helps with wound healing, iron absorption, collagen formation, and the maintenance of bone, teeth, and cartilage. One serving of this leafy green provides 22% of the DV.

In fact, this superfood contains 4.5 times more vitamin C than spinach! But what’s even more impressive is its antioxidant content, which we’ll get to next. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant.


This popular leafy green is also a good source of vitamin A, and several B vitamins – which are important for energy and metabolism – as well as potassium, manganese, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

And remember, that’s all for just 7 calories!


Antioxidants are compounds that help protect your cells from damage caused by molecules called free radicals.

As a result, diets high in antioxidants have been associated with reduced risk of several diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain forms of cancer.

In a 2012 study, kale was found to contain more antioxidants than any of the other cruciferous vegetables measured, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.

The study also found it to be high in a few specific antioxidants, including vitamin C as well as:


These are two types of carotenoids that are essential for eye health. In addition to protecting eye cells against damage from free radicals, they also help filter out blue light waves, which can increase our risk for macular degeneration. Sources of blue light include sunlight as well as TV, smartphones, and computer screens.

Leafy greens are some of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, including spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chardBroccoli and brussels sprouts are also high in these antioxidants.


These are two types of flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory, and shown to help promote heart health and protect against certain forms of cancer.Other good sources include onions, spinach, hot peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes.


A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition found that cooking results in a significant loss of several nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamin C, and many minerals.

However, the study also found that steaming resulted in the greatest retention of antioxidants and minerals compared to four other cooking methods – boiling, microwaving, pressure cooking, and vacuum cooking.

If you are going to use Russian Red Kale to treat an existing health condition please consult with your healthcare provider first.

Russian red kale