Growing Kai Lan (Chinese Kale) at Singapore home
Kai Lan, commonly known by its Cantonese name is no foreign vegetable to Asian palettes. Also known as Jie Lan (芥兰) in Mandarin, Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli in English, this vegetable is a leafy vegetable with thick, flat, deep dark-green leaves with thick stems, and florets similar to broccoli (hence its name Chinese broccoli). People who love this vegetable adore the dense texture of the leaves; and the sweetness and crispiness of the stems. Those who do not, complain of the bitter and green taste these vegetables have; but chefs and home cooks tackle this bitter taste by cooking Kai Lan with a couple of slices of ginger to “lift” the green taste, as well as with a pinch of sugar to “smoothen out” the bitterness.
How to grow from seed?
The seeds of Kai Lan can be easily bought at the local gardening store, online, or from friends and neighbours who have overgrown kailan awaiting for their seeds to shed!
Either in a germinating tray or planting plot, lay the base with some moistened soil. Afterwhich, scatter the seeds evenly across the tray or planting plot, sprinkle a thin layer of fresh soil over top to bury the freshly sowed seeds. Continue watering if the soil is not moist enough. Then, expose the sowed seeds to at least 4 hrs of direct sunlight daily and protect it from rain. As these seeds are fairly small and light-weighted, falling rain or too much water in the plot can easily dislodge the seeds from their sowed spots. Therefore, in the first 2 weeks of germination, it is critical to protect the seeds from too much external motion. If your seeds are planted directly into a planting plot, you may want to get some fine gardening mesh / netting to lay overtop your sowed seeds or build a mini tent over the plot to protect the sowed seeds from potential harsh weather.
How to grow from cuttings?
If you do not have access to Chinese spinach 9bayam) seeds, you may choose to grow them from cuttings as well. Simply choose a healthy bundle of spinach leaves when you buy them at the market (Typically wet market sellers tend to sell chinese spinach with their roots still on; for ease of packaging and convenience, the supermarkets tend to have them chopped off). You can use the top leafy portions for cooking, but leave the bottom 15cm portion, approximately up to the 4th leaf node for planting. Soak this lower portion of the cuttings in water for a week, noting to change the water every couple of days. Transplant the cuttings to the ground or a container filled with soil as soon as the roots appear.
Water plenty and keep in the shade at the beginning till the plant stabilizes. Afterwhich, you may expose the kang kong plant to full sun. Continue watering good amounts of water -these bayam plants thrive in the moisture and heat!
Soil types for optimal growth:
As with most vegetables, Kai Lan thrive optimally in well drained soil, rich in organic matter. For optimal plant nutrition, add compost and/or mulch occasionally to replenish nutrient levels in soil; or apply a small amount of organic fertiliser every 1-2 weeks for optimal growth.
With edible vegetables, you would always want to make sure the fertiliser used is preferably organic, and surely food safe. Most plants and vegetables need supplies of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), commonly known as NPK for short, to maintain healthy plant growth. Please also be forewarned that fertilisers must be applied to the plants with an optimal frequency. It may be intuitive to think that a heavier application of fertilizer is better for the plant growth, however in this case, the frequency at which the fertiliser is being applied and the quantity of each application are KEY! Over- application of fertiliser to your plants and vegetables can make the soil “too salty” OR “too concentrated” with fertiliser that the leaves might begin to shrivell.
As with each plant, there are optimal pH levels that will promote optimal growth. Nitrogen (N) present in most fertilisers is the main nutrient affecting and altering soil pH – that is to say, soils can become more acidic or more alkaline depending on the type of nitrogen fertilizer used. Therefore, with fertilisers, it is wise to always err on under-application rather than over-application in order that the soil does not significantly alter in its pH veering away from its optimal pH (which one may already have “tuned” the soil to be).
6.0 – 6.8
Once germinated, Kai Lan will need plenty of sunlight (more than the 4 hours of sunlight required in germination stage). For mature plants, you would be looking at providing at the very least 6 hours of sunlight to the plant.
Leafy vegetables need plenty of sunlight or their leaves may turn an unhealthy yellow. This is commonly observed at the base levels where those leaves are unable to receive sufficient sunlight as the taller leaves that have emerged are blocking the lower leaves. This is when a growth light that is adjustable in height and angle comes in very handy. To compensate for the lack of light exposure at the lower/base levels of the plants, the grow light can occasionally be adjusted to direct light beams at these lower sections of the plant.
While germinating, keep soil moist – not over soaking in water such that seeds dislodge from their sowed spots; or over soak, soften and rot (die). After seeds have germinated, go ahead and water plenty! Water good amounts of water – Kai Lan loves the moisture and the heat!
By the window where plenty of sunlight is available would be a good spot to position your plant. If not, any other positions that receive good amounts of sunlight (especially morning sunlight) can work too – HDB corridors, balcony, verandas, etc.