Picking Kale – How To Harvest Kale
By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Kale is basically a cabbage type vegetable that doesn’t form a head. Learn how to harvest kale at the right time to encourage the most flavorful leaves.
Kale, like many cabbage crops, is a cool season vegetable. As such, it is beneficial for the flavor to have a frost before harvesting kale. Planting at the right time will allow the plant to be of optimum picking size after frost. Baby kale leaves may be ready for harvest in as little as 25 days after planting but larger leaves will take longer. When to pick kale will depend on the use planned for the leafy green.
How to Harvest Kale
Learning how to pick kale ensures the kale is fresh; you can use the baby kale harvest for leaves in a few salads. Harvesting kale for use in soups, stews and cooked, mixed greens allows use of larger leaves. Harvesting kale may include taking a few tender inner leaves or removing the entire bunch by cutting at the roots. To use kale as a garnish, take either a large or small part of the kale harvest.
Plan ahead before planting so you won’t have more than you can use, or give some away after the kale harvest. You may want to use succession planting when putting kale into your garden so that your kale isn’t ready for harvest all at the same time.
When to pick kale will depend on when it is planted. In areas with mild winters, kale may be grown the entire season. In areas with freezing winter temperatures, start kale in late summer or late winter for a cool season frost before harvesting kale.
Now that you’ve learned how to pick kale and a few facts about harvesting kale, you are ready to start your own nutritious crop. Kale has few calories, more vitamin C than orange juice and is an excellent source of calcium.
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Growing Kale in the Home Garden for Dark, Leafy Greens
Growing kale in your home garden is easy! Its harvest season can last for an extended time, so you’ll reap the benefits of this dark, leafy green for months with just a single planting. Here’s how to grow kale from seed for an abundant harvest.
Love greens? Be sure to plant some lettuce, too!
How to Harvest Kale So It Keeps Growing | 12 Tips
Kale is the tender leafy green that is frost-friendly and surprisingly hardy — and so we want our kale garden harvests to last as long as possible. So how to harvest kale so it keeps growing? Read on to discover our Grow Pro advice to harvesting kale the right way.
Growing kale is a major hit with families, health nuts, beginner growers, and more. The health benefits of kale are well known these nutty ribbed leaves are notoriously nutrient-packed and easy to grow. Plus, they’re a perfect fall crop.
Once you’ve begun growing your kale plant so as to ensure successful growth, you’re probably looking forward to your harvest. With a few garden insights, you’ll be happily harvesting kale leaves all season long — and is there anything better than a fresh leafy green on your plate?
Here’s how to harvest kale so it keeps growing in 12 simple tips.
1. Harvest when leaves are about the size of your palm.
Fully matured kale leaves are about the size of your hand. Your kale plant will begin to produce leaves this size about 70 days after planting. Once the leaves are this size, your kale is ready and you should quickly harvest, as they’ll go bitter shortly after this.
However, fully mature kale leaves aren’t the only kind of kale you can harvest. About 25 days after planting, you’ll reach ‘microgreen’ size. Microgreens are basically baby kale leaves. These leaves are especially tender and tasty (perfect for eating raw!).
2. Cut along the base to harvest.
Harvesting kale is actually incredibly simple. To harvest, grasp the leaf in one hand and simply snip off along the base near the stem using pruning shears.
3. Don’t cut the root of the plant.
No matter what, do not cut the root of the plant! Kale is programmed to continue to produce leaves for some time. If you cut the stems or root, you’ll damage the plant and either stall or destroy any potential new growth. Instead, cut at the base of the leaves you want to pick in one session and leave everything else alone (new growth, stems, and roots included).
4. Pick the largest and oldest leaves first.
The largest and oldest leaves are usually found at the base of the plant. You’ll be able to tell because, well, they’re largest. These leaves are the closest to going bitter.
Harvesting older leaves first will ensure that your kale plants don’t bolt. They will keep producing new growth!
5. Avoid picking the terminal bud.
The terminal bud is found at the top center of the plant. Avoid picking this as you harvest. Doing so will keep the plant productive for a longer period, continuously producing new leaves for you to pick.
6. Pick about one fistful of leaves per harvest.
As a rule, we suggest picking about one fistful of leaves per harvest. That being said, pick as much as you need! If you’re hosting a dinner party with a delicious kale recipe, feel free to pick whatever is eating-size. It will grow back regardless.
7. Return in one week for the large leaves!
It’s important to regularly harvest your kale. If you let leaves die on the plant, the plant will be discouraged to continue to produce growth. Return every 5-7 days to reap your new harvest and be sure to remove fully mature leaves every time.
8. Harvest your microgreens — but not too many.
As you’re harvesting your kale plant, be sure to harvest your microgreens — some of us like them even more than fully mature kale leaves (see above). However, be careful not to pick too many. Over-harvesting immature leaves will prompt the kale plant to stop growing and it will ruin your harvest.
9. Wait until after the first frost.
If you’re growing kale in the fall, our favorite pro tip is to wait to harvest until after the first frost! A good frost actually makes your kale taste sweeter. Frost increases the amount of sugar in your kale leaves, making them tenderer and sweeter than a spring harvest.
Alternatively, harvest parts of your kale plant before the first frost and finish up afterward. You’ll be able to taste the difference — we promise.
10. While harvesting, remove yellow or spotted leaves.
Whenever you harvest, keep an eye out for yellow or spotted leaves. Remove these leaves immediately. Left on the plant, dead or ill leaves take up energy that could otherwise be going towards healthy leaves and extending your harvest.
If you see yellow, spotted, or wilted leaves consistently, your plant is in distress. Consider whether it could be caused by common kale pests (like cabbage worms or aphids) or simply overwatering. Once you’ve spotted the issue, solve as quickly as possible. Adjust your care routine to include pest control and/or different watering tactics.
11. Shield your kale from the weather.
Extend your kale harvest by simply shielding your plant from the weather. As it gets colder and closer to winter, it’s a good idea to cover your plants with a row cover, hoop house, or cold frame. If you don’t have these on hand, simply drape a tarp over the kale plant and secure with something heavy.
The good news about the cold is that it will transform your container garden kit into a mini-fridge! Your kale will last longer in the cold ground than it would otherwise and allow you to harvest into winter (if you can protect the outside with a cover). Simply reach under the cover to harvest
Another option is to cover up and leave it until spring — if you have a cold enough winter, it may survive and begin growing again come warmer weather!
12. After harvest, store properly.
Although it won’t technically extend your harvest, storing your kale leaves properly will extend how long you can enjoy your harvest. You should try and consume your kale har v est within two weeks of cutting your leaves off the plant.
To store properly, follow the following steps:
- Wash all harvested leaves thoroughly with cold water (hot/warm water will make them wilt!), being sure to remove any debris.
- Remove the stems now, unless you plan to eat them.
- Pat the leaves dry with a paper towel and let air dry for about 10 minutes. Storing the leaves while they’re still wet will wilt them and make them slimy.
- Put leaves in a resealable plastic bag alongside a paper towel. This will prevent moisture from damaging the leaves. Squeeze as much air out of the plastic bag as possible.
- Place in refrigerator in a vegetable drawer and enjoy within two weeks. Once wilted or yellow, the leaves should be disposed of.
How to Harvest, Preserve & Freeze Kale (perfect for use in smoothies!)
It’s that time of year when the garden is starting to overflow with goodness. The tomato plants are tall and we are starting to see some red beauties ripen up. We have already harvested and pulled out the green bean plants (and our fridge is jammed with dilly beans). Our jalapenos are taking off and our bell peppers are growing slow and steady. We have snuck a few carrots to taste test and they will be ready in a week or so. The snap peas didn’t last long with daily Lyla raids. Our broccoli is coming in quite nicely. We’ve enjoyed many, many salads from our spicy greens. Aaaaand we have some decorative gourds growing beautifully, which is funny, because we didn’t plant gourds this year. Huh.
Also, our kale. Looks. Fabulous. The only problem is that there is so much of it that comes ready at once. Our main use of kale in our house is adding it to smoothies, so I wanted to figure out a good way to preserve and freeze our kale so that it was easy to pop in a smoothie concoction. Have you checked out Lyla’s favorite smoothie recipe?
Harvesting kale is simple. When the leaves are about the size of your hand, they are ready (they are even tasty when the leaves are young and tender). Use a scissors to cut the stem or snap the stem with your hand just below the leaf. Be sure to choose bottom leaves to harvest and do not pull out the entire plant. Your kale will keep showing you love with more growth throughout the summer and into fall. It can even withstand some frost. The best time of day to harvest kale (and all greens for that matter) is early in the morning.
- Begin by boiling a large pot of water on the stove.
- Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and set it on the counter next to the pot on the stove.
- Set up a drying station for your kale with kitchen towels or paper towel next to the ice bath.
- Place a few ice cube trays next to the drying station.
- Prepare the kale by removing the thick stem in the leaves. I just ripped it out by hand. Rip the leaves into small pieces. I’m not too worried about size, but keep size in mind depending on recipes in which you might use the kale.
- Wash the kale, either by submerging it in a large bowl of water or by rinsing it in a colander.
- Once the water is boiling, add the kale to the pot of boiling water.
- Remove the kale after 2 ½ to 3 minutes with a slotted spoon (a pasta scooper spoon thing works well for this) and submerge the kale immediately in the ice bath to stop the cooking process. This process is called blanching and it prepares the kale for freezing by stopping enzyme actions that cause a loss of texture, flavor, and color. Your kale cook time starts when the kale is submerged, not when the water returns to a boil.
- Using the same slotted spoon, move the kale from the ice bath to your drying station. For this freezing method it’s not necessary to get the kale super dry, just remove as much water as you can on the towels.
- Push small handfuls of kale to almost the top of each ice cube hole.
- Put the trays in the freezer for about 4 hours or until the kale is completely frozen. Pop the kale out of the tray and store in a freezer bag.
I harvested so much kale that I repeated the steps above many times because it sure wasn’t all going to fit in one pot. Go ahead and reuse the water for multiple boiling sessions. I harvested a very large bag of kale and ended up with two ice cube trays of frozen kale. It definitely becomes more compact when it’s been blanched and has wilted.
These small servings of kale are perfect to toss in smoothies, soups, stews, and pasta dishes. I actually think that a smoothie blended with blanched, frozen kale turns out better than using fresh – with frozen kale you lose the grittiness.
How do you use kale you’ve preserved from the farmers’ market or your summer garden?
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Caring for Kale
- Light requirements. Since, when growing kale, the focus is on the leaves and not the flowers, the plants can easily grow in partial shade to full sun. If the area where you live is dry and warm, it is best if you offer your kale plants some shade, especially for those afternoons when it gets hot. Too much heat can cause the leaves to lose flavor and wilt.
- Watering. Your kale plants should be watered regularly, you are aiming to maintain the soil moist evenly. Cool temperatures and moist soil are the two factors that allow the leaves of the kale to keep their crisp and sweet qualities, instead of becoming bitter and tough. If you add some mulch around your kale plants it will also be helpful in maintaining the soil cool and retaining moisture.
- Soil conditions. Kale plants will definitely grow better in rich soil, with a high amount of organic matter, with a pH level slightly acidic. The organic matter provides content high in nitrogen which is important for the growth of the leaves. It is also important that the soil is well-draining.
- Fertilizer. When planting or transplanting kale, mix the fertilizer into the top 7 to 10 centimeters of soil. Then, during the growing season, you can feed your plant regularly, using the instructions in the label of the fertilizer. You can use a vegetable high-nitrogen fertilizer or compost.
- Temperature and humidity. When planting the kale the ideal temperature for the soil to be in is between 15 and 18 degrees Celsius. All of the varieties of kale like cool temperatures better, and will become slightly sweeter with a bit of frost. Kale tends to become bitter when growing in hot weather. Because it is a biennial plant, it will take two kale growing seasons for its cycle of life to be complete, but it is mostly grown as an annual. In most zones, it can survive all through winter if it gets the right protection, but if it gets exposed to snow or even heavy frosts it will probably die.
- Harvesting. As I wrote above, your kale plant will likely be mature enough for harvest, when started from seeds, in about two months. On the packet of seeds, the days to maturity can be found, if you want to have a more precise estimation of the time. If you plan to use them in fresh salads you may harvest them a little young, if however, you plan to cook them you can wait for them to mature. The best way to harvest kale is to take the outer older leaves and leave the plant’s center so it can keep producing. Kale can be harvested throughout the months of summer, but it does become tastier after a gentle frost.
- Growing kale from seeds. Plants can be started indoors, about six weeks prior to the last frost date. Inside warm soil kale seeds usually germinate fast, and start sprouting in about five to nine days. Seeds should be covered in 1,5 cm of soil and should be kept moist before germination happens. Transplanting kale. After the frost danger has passed you can transplant the seedlings. Plants should be planted about 40 cm apart, this will allow them to have space to spread and also for the air to circulate between the plants.