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When and How to Harvest Kale so It Keeps Growing [10+ Pro Tips!]

Kale is a green leafy vegetable that almost has a superfood status for its impressive nutrient profile. Despite the stereotypes that leafy vegetables are boring, kale is versatile and can be prepared in many ways – cooked, baked, or used raw in salads.

To add to kale’s greatness, this veggie is really easy to grow, even in limited garden spaces.

Still, there is one question commonly asked by beginner gardeners, especially the ones who have seen entire kale plants sold at farmer’s markets. 

The question is: How do you pick kale so it keeps growing? How do you go about picking its nutrient-rich leaves occasionally for meal prep while keeping the plant alive? 

If you follow just a few basic rules, you will easily manage to harvest your kale plants through the season without killing them or ruining their productivity.

Let’s learn how to harvest kale sustainably!

How to Harvest Kale So It Keeps Growing

The first crucial tip for harvesting kale so it keeps growing is to never pick the inner bud. Harvest the older, outside leaves first. Make sure each plant has a minimum of ten leaves before you start harvesting. The perfect size for a kale leaf is about the length of your hand.

When you pick the older leaves first, it will trigger your kale to produce more new leaves. This one, you can keep on harvesting your plant without killing it!

Read on for more pro tips on when to harvest kale and how to harvest it so it keeps on growing.

When to Harvest Kale

harvesting kale in wooden basket
Kale only takes about two months from seed to harvest!

Generally speaking, kale is ready to harvest about two months after you’ve planted the seeds.

Each plant should have ten or more leaves. Small, young, tender ones will be in the middle, and the larger ones on the outside. 

However, your kale season will depend on when you’ve started your kale.

Seeds that have been directly sown in your garden right after the soil becomes workable as the spring sets in will be ready for an early summer harvest.

You can also plant young kale plants 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date, but cover them at night if temperatures significantly below freezing are expected.

Seeds sown about three months before the first frost will be available for a fall or winter harvest.

In planting zones 8, 9, and 10, kale can be planted later in the fall and even in the wintertime – it will continue to grow until temps drop below 20°F.

Oh, and did you know that kale leaves have the richest taste in the winter, after they have been touched by light frost?

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How to Harvest Kale (Finally!) – Pro Tips and Tricks

harvesting kale from the garden
Kale will give you an almost endless harvest if you keep our pro tips in mind!
  1. First and crucial tip: never nip your kale at the bud if you aim to keep it alive!
  2. Picking the plant’s bud will do precisely what the phrase suggests. Sure, the bud looks young and tasty, but if you pick it or damage it, the plant will stop growing and will eventually die
  3. To keep kale alive and productive for long, always pick the older, outside leaves. Never pick kale from the inside out. See the featured image above? I’m holding a leaf that is great for harvesting. The bright green leaves in the center should be left alone.
  4. When picking, limit the amount to about one fistful of leaves per plant per harvest. As I said before, you should start with the oldest leaves and from the lowest section of the plant. 
  5. On the other hand (no pun intended), don’t spare the old leaves – if you leave them for too long, they will go yellow and wilt anyway. 
  6. The optimal size of mature kale leaves is about the length of your hand.
  7. When harvesting, discard any yellow or sick-looking leaves. 
  8. Picking the older leaves will trigger the plant to grow more young leaves.
  9. If you really need the young kale leaves (e.g., for a raw salad), be careful to pick the “middle ones” – the fairly young leaves closer to the older ones and not those close to the bud.
  10. You can harvest kale leaves by hand, although it takes some experience to do it neatly and swiftly. Perhaps it is safer and easier to use gardening micro-tip shears (like our favorite Fiskars Micro Tip Pruners!) – especially if you plan to pick younger leaves.
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11/29/2022 07:56 pm GMT

How to Grow Kale FAQs

Learning how to harvest kale without killing it was easy, right?

However, many other interesting questions, tips, and tricks surround this tasty cool-weather leafy green. 

Read our FAQs to become an expert kale grower!

To Take Away

As you see, harvesting kale so it keeps growing is easy-peasy. Just stick to picking the outer leaves, and don’t go rough on the younger ones.

Kale is a generous veggie, and if you have at least a dozen plants, you will easily have bountiful weekly harvests.

Author

  • Katarina Samurovic

    An environmental analyst, gardener, insect enthusiast, and a mom of three, trying to pour her life-long naturalist experience into useful articles. She is passionate about protecting biodiversity, achieving harmony with natural ecosystems, and raising kids conscious of - and conscientious about - our shared environment.

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