How and When to Harvest Kale For The Best Crop Yields

Not sure when it's time to harvest your kale this season? Harvesting this leafy green is fairly straightforward, and the timing depends on when it was planted. In this article, gardening expert Merideth Cohrs takes you through when it's time to harvest kale, and step by step instructions on how to do it.

Harvest kale

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Kale is one of the easiest plants to grow in the home garden. It does well in small spaces and can even be grown in a container or window-box garden. And unlike many veggies that require a lot of careful attention, kale thrives on a bit of neglect. Give it some sunlight and water, and you can enjoy a bounty of kale this season.

But when should you harvest it? And what’s the best way to harvest kale leaves so that the plant continues to grow, and produces leafy greens for you all season long?

When it comes to harvesting, there’s a few important factors to remember. Keep reading to discover the perfect time to harvest your garden grown kale, and step by step instructions on how to do it once your plants are ready.

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When to Harvest

Top view, close-up of a bed with growing green kale in a sunny garden. The green plants form a rosette of elongated bright green leaves with ruffled edges. The sun's rays illuminate the plants creating semi-shady areas under them.
Kale is a fast-growing, cool-weather brassica that matures in 50-65 days.

Kale is a cool-weather crop, so it’ll grow best when planted in late summer for a fall/winter harvest. You can also plant in early spring (as soon as the ground is workable) for an early-summer harvest. Either way, kale’s flavor gets a little sweet when grown in a light frost, so don’t be afraid of the cold weather.

Kale is a quick-growing member of the brassica family. Most types of kale mature in 50-65 days after sowing seeds. This timeline will be a bit shorter if you transplant seedlings. If you’re more interested in growing baby kale for salads, they’ll be ready to pick in as little as 20-30 days.

If you want an abundant supply of kale this season, be sure to succession plant a new crop every two weeks. Succession planting ensures new plants reach maturity and provide you with a continual harvest.

How to Harvest Kale, so it Keeps Growing

Like many lettuce greens, Kale is a plant you can continually harvest. As long as you leave the growing crown – the top 4-6 leaves of the plant – intact, your kale will continue to grow and produce new leaves.

Here is how to harvest kale for a continental harvest and the best yield.

Step 1: Timing Your Harvest

Close-up of a woman's hand showing a blue-green leaf in an organic garden. The leaves are large, oblong, with frilled margins and long stems.
If the leaves are the size of a palm, then they are ready to be harvested.

One of the easiest ways you can tell kale is ready to harvest is by looking at the size of the leaves. Luckily, kale is an easy-going leafy brassica with an incredibly long harvesting window. Once you spend a little time with your plant, knowing when to harvest will become second nature.

Baby kale leaves can be harvested a few weeks after sowing seeds. These smaller leaves are more tender than full-grown leaves and are excellent eaten raw in salads. If you’re looking for more mature leaves for cooking, pick leaves when they’re about the size of your palm.

Once you notice that the lower branches of the plant have reached this size, you can start harvesting as you like.

Step 2: Gather Tools

Close-up of the hands of a young woman dressed in a white t-shirt and denim overalls, holding pink scissors and a cut leaf against the backdrop of growing green lush brassica leaves. The leaves are bright green, elongated, curly at the edges.
To grow organically, you’ll need organic-rich soil, water, fertilizer, and sharp shears for harvesting mature leaves.

Growing kale in the home garden is very rewarding. It’s a fast growing crop that functions well in a variety of climates, and seasons. But like every gardening experience, you’ll need the right tools for the job before you start to harvest your crop.

When it comes to harvesting, make sure you have some sharp gardening shears on hand for harvesting mature leaves. You’ll want to ensure they are clean and sterile so you don’t spread disease to the plant.

You’ll also likely want a garden basket, so you have someplace to put your leaves, as well as gloves, and a knee pad so you don’t hurt your knees while bending over to snip off parts of the plant.

Step 3: Cut Leaves at the Base

Close-up of a woman's hands picking a dark green leaf from a plant in the garden against the backdrop of growing lush brassica leaves. The leaves are oblong, oval with ruffle edges and distinct veins.
Carefully cut off mature leaves at the base of the leaf without hitting the stem of the plant.

If you want to ensure your plant stays healthy and produces new leaves, you must protect it. Cut mature leaves off at the base of the leaf, taking care not to nick the plant stem.

You can pinch baby kale leaves with your fingers, but use sharp shears for large leaves to prevent tearing.

Step 4: Avoid Cutting the Roots

A close-up of the hands of a girl, dressed in a white T-shirt and blue denim overalls with orange straps, cuts kale leaves on raised beds with pink scissors. The leaves are bright green in color, oval in shape with curly edges. In the background, on a white table, there is a wicker basket with a couple of harvested leaves.
To keep kale growing throughout the season, harvest individual leaves rather than the entire plant.

You’ll want to let the plant grow all season long for the best yields. Focus on harvesting individual leaves rather than cutting the entire plant from the ground. I only do this when the plant has reached the end of its growing season.

Step 5: Harvest Large Leaves First

Close-up of a woman's hands picking the bottom leaves in a sunny garden. The plant forms a rosette of elongated, curly, bright green leaves. The plants grow in full sun. The girl is wearing a purple long sleeve shirt.
Focus on harvesting the oldest leaves on the bottom of the plant.

Start with the lowest section of the plant, and pick the oldest leaves first. Start moving up the stem, and take as many leaves as you want. You have to leave at least 4-6 leaves growing at the crown of the plant for it to continue growing successfully.

When harvesting in this manner, the plant will continue to grow and produce fresh leaves for you through the entire growing season.

Step 6: Always Leave the Terminal Bud

A close-up of the hands of a young female farmer wearing orange rubber gloves and a blue and white plaid shirt, showing the top row of brassica leaves growing in a raised bed. The leaves are pale green, oblong with frilled margins, collected in a rosette.
Don’t damage the top 4-6 leaves that form the crown so the plant will keep producing new leaves.

The terminal bud or growing crown is made up of the plant’s top 4-6 leaves. As long as this section remains intact, the kale will continue to grow and produce new leaves.

Step 7: Pick One Fist-Full Per Harvest

Close-up of a gardener's hand holding a blue-green, curly brassica leaf against dark brown soil in a garden. The leaves are oval in shape, with ruffle edges, and grow on long strong stems.
Plant several kale plants so you always have a fresh harvest.

Depending on the size of your plant, you should be able to harvest a handful of leaves at a time. We recommend growing multiple plants – succession planting is ideal – at a time so you can gather as much as you’d like.

Have a large family gathering? Harvest from three or four plants! Want to make your morning smoothie? Grab a few leaves from a single plant.

Having multiple plants ready for harvest gives you many options and ensures a high yield.

Step 8: Harvest Again Next Week

A farmer in a white T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers harvests leaves from the beds in the garden. Young plants are planted at a distance from each other and has only two rows of dark green, curly leaves. A beige plastic basket filled with harvested leaves is next to the garden beds.
The kale plant produces new leaves every 6-8 days.

If you’ve followed these steps, your plant will be ready for another harvest in about a week. Picking leaves off the plant sends a signal to grow more. So, the more you harvest, the more new leaves your kale plant will produce.

Return to each plant every 6-8 days for a continual harvest all season.

Storage

Close-up of a woman's hand holding a plastic tray with freshly picked kale leaves on a wooden table background. The leaves are rich green in color with frilled edges. In the background is another tray of leaves.
Well-washed and dried kale can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

If you grow more kale than you can eat in a week, you’ll need to know how to store it.

Wash all the leaves and dry completely with a paper towel or cloth. Group the kale in to a bunch and wrap it completely with a layer of paper towels. Put this entire package into a resealable plastic bag and place it in the refrigerator.

Kale will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge if stored properly.

If you know you’ll be using kale in soups or smoothies, you can chop it ahead of time. Go through the same steps above, but use a salad spinner to dry all the individual pieces. If you don’t have one, you can let the pieces dry on a paper towel. Line a plastic resealable bag with paper towels and place the chopped leaves inside.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how and when to harvest kale go out and get some of these nutritious greens! You can start planning your spring and fall vegetable gardens with plenty of these versatile greens. Kale’s flavor and use in the kitchen will reward you for weeks and months to come!

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