Despite the stereotypes that leafy vegetables are bland, kale is versatile and can be prepared in many ways – cooked, baked, or used raw in salads. Still, there is one question commonly asked by beginner gardeners: how and when do you harvest kale so it keeps growing?
Learning how to pick kale and how to cut it in the proper place to ensure that it keeps growing is very simple. You only need to leave at least ten mature, healthy leaves on the plant any time you harvest. Additionally, avoid taking immature leaves from the center of the plant.
If you follow just a few basic rules, you will easily manage to harvest your kale plants through the season. So, let’s learn how to harvest kale sustainably!
- How to Harvest Kale So It Keeps Growing
- How to Grow and Harvest Kale FAQs
- Final Thoughts
How to Harvest Kale So It Keeps Growing
When it comes to learning how to pick kale, there are some tips and tricks to keep in mind so the plant keeps growing.
The first crucial tip for harvesting kale so it keeps growing is never to pick the central leaves or the bud in the plant’s middle. Instead, it would be best if you cut the kale off the stem, harvesting the older outermost leaves first.
Make sure each plant has a minimum of ten healthy, mature leaves before you start harvesting. Your plant should also be at least a few inches tall.
When you pick the older, larger leaves first, it will trigger your kale to produce more new leaves. So, by following these tips, you can keep harvesting your plant without killing it! Plus, that way, you can have a continuous harvest all season.
So, now that you know how to cut and harvest kale so it keeps growing, let’s discuss when you should plant and harvest kale to get the best yields.
When to Harvest Kale
Generally speaking, kale is ready to harvest about two months after you’ve planted the seeds. However, your kale season will depend on when you’ve started your kale.
Since the weather will influence your kale harvest season, it’s best to use your plant’s maturity level to measure the perfect time for harvesting. As a rule of thumb, each plant should have ten or more leaves before you consider harvesting the mature ones.
If you want an early to late summer harvest, sow your kale seeds or kale seedlings directly in your garden after the soil becomes workable in early or late spring.
You can also plant young kale plants and kale seedlings 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost date. However, to ensure that the seeds germinate in the cold, cover them at night if the temperature is supposed to fall below 20° F.
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, you can plant kale in the cooler seasons. Kale can thrive, even if you plant it later in the fall or in the wintertime – it will continue to grow until temps drop below 20° F.
Did you know that kale leaves have the richest taste in the winter after they have been touched by cool temperatures and a light frost?
How to Cut and Harvest Kale – Pro Tips and Tricks
While there’s no wrong way to harvest and cut your kale off the stem, if you take too many leaves or pick them from the wrong place, your plant might not continue growing.
So, if you want to pick your kale and keep it thriving, here are some tips to follow:
Wait Until Your Kale Is Mature
If you harvest kale leaves while the plant is too young, it may not be able to bounce back. So, you should wait until you have mature plants with at least ten large leaves before harvesting kale.
Additionally, don’t remove too many leaves from the plant. For the best results, leave 60% of the mature leaves. For example, if your kale plant has ten mature leaves, only take three of them, then wait until it has ten leaves again.
Leaving more than you take ensures that your kale plant has enough foliage to photosynthesize and continue growing.
Only Harvest the Older Outermost Leaves
Picking the plant’s baby leaves 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.
To keep kale alive and productive all season, always pick the older, outside leaves. Never pick kale from the inside out.
Limit Your Kale Harvests
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.
Keep Harvesting the Older Leaves to Promote New Growth
Harvesting your kale does more than fill your plate with a delicious and nutritious snack! When you only harvest mature leaves from your kale plant, you help it thrive.
Plants need a lot of energy to maintain their leaves and stay alive. So, when no one is there to prune kale, it will grow to a certain size, then stop growing as it runs out of energy to both maintain its existing leaves and grow new ones.
By removing the larger, more mature leaves, you’re helping the kale plant produce more baby leaves.
Only Harvest the Outermost Leaves When They Are Mature
The optimal size of mature kale leaves is about the length of your hand or about 5 to 7 inches long. When harvesting, discard any yellow or sick-looking leaves. I
f you really need the young kale for salad, be careful to pick the “middle ones” – the fairly young, tender leaves closer to the older ones and not those close to the bud. If the leaves are too young, you’ll end up interfering with the quality of your future harvests.
Cut the Kale Leaves From the Stem
You can harvest kale leaves by hand, although it takes some experience to do it neatly and swiftly. Usually, it is safer and easier to cut kale stems with scissors. If you have them, you can get the cleanest cuts with gardening micro-tip shears (like our favorite Fiskars Micro Tip Pruners!) – especially if you plan to pick younger leaves.
One snip does not fit all! Using the right snip for each task can lead to a healthier garden. Start with multi-use snips for a solid foundation. Trim to foster growth. Then harvest fresh produce with these sharp, easy-to-clean snips!
How to Grow and Harvest 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!
Does Kale Come Back Every Year?
Most kale does not come back every year. Average kale is a biennial plant that is most commonly grown as an annual. However, some heirloom varieties of kale will last much longer than two years.
Although most people harvest the entire kale plant in late summer, you can keep it going for two years by using the “redux” harvesting method and protecting it during wintertime with row covers or improvised constructions.
However, be aware that in the second year of its life, kale will naturally bolt as the warm weather sets in. We’ll discuss that more in a moment.
However, now, brace yourself, as kale is about to get more exciting.
If you want kale that will grow for years without bolting, there are heritage kale varieties, known under the collective names “cottagers kale” or simply “perennial kale.” These include Daubenton kale and Taunton Deane kale.
Once widely cultivated, these kale varieties fell out of favor because they don’t transport well after the harvest, making them useless for commercial production. Still, they are a perfect choice for home gardeners who want fresh produce year-round.
How Often Should You Water Kale?
Kale is not an overly thirsty plant, but it needs to have a steady supply of water. That means that if the rain gets inconsistent – which is expected in the days of climate change – you will need to provide some additional watering.
You should water your kale about once a week. Kale usually needs about one gallon per square foot, or one to one and a half inches, of water per week. However, you don’t need to measure out your water – just keep the soil moist.
If the soil starts to dry out between waterings, up your watering schedule to twice a week.
Is Kale a Full Sun Plant?
Kale will grow both in the full sun and partial shade. However, kale does best in bright, direct sunlight. If you plant it somewhere with partial shade, it may grow more slowly, but it should still flourish as long as it gets 6 hours of bright sunlight daily.
So, find a bright, sunny spot for your kale plants for the best results.
Why Is My Kale Bolting?
Your kale may be bolting if you decide to keep it as a biennial plant. After overwintering, the warm weather will trigger kale’s natural mechanism to reproduce. In most cases, then, the kale will produce a flower stalk and, subsequently, the seeds as soon as the weather gets warm in the second year.
Like many other leafy vegetables, as soon as the kale bolts, the leaves will become bitter and unusable for making meals.
If your kale starts to bolt, the best course of action is to harvest most of the leaves as soon as you notice that the stalk is emerging. Then, let nature run its course if you want to keep the seeds for the following season.
Still, note that only open-pollinated varieties will breed true from the seed.
Does Kale Regrow After Picking?
You might have already figured this out from the harvesting tips above, but let’s sum it up.
As long as you pick the outer leaves, kale will regrow after picking. In fact, picking the outermost leaves will actually enhance the new growth. However, if you pick or damage the central bud of the plant – it’s game over.
Your kale plant will not be able to produce any new growth. The same applies to harvesting the entire plant by cutting the stem. Kale cannot regrow from its roots.
What Can You Not Plant Next to Kale?
A general rule is not to pair up any crop with a related plant with similar needs.
In the case of kale, you should not plant other brassicas, or cabbage family veggies, in the same garden space. Likewise, growing other leafy greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, next to kale is not a good idea.
Some of the cabbage family plants you should avoid planting next to kale include:
- Brussels sprouts
Besides competition for the same type of nutrients from the soil, the problem is that these vegetables can fall prey to the same or similar diseases and pests, amplifying any infestation
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. With its curly green leaves, numerous nutritional benefits, and ease of care, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the bounties of kale year-round.
Happy gardening, and thanks for reading!