How to Harvest Kale So It Keeps Growing | 12 Tips

How to Harvest Kale

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.

Gardener Harvesting Kale

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 harvest within two weeks of cutting your leaves off the plant.

To store properly, follow the following steps:

  1. Wash all harvested leaves thoroughly with cold water (hot/warm water will make them wilt!), being sure to remove any debris.
  2. Remove the stems now, unless you plan to eat them.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Place in refrigerator in a vegetable drawer and enjoy within two weeks. Once wilted or yellow, the leaves should be disposed of.
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