If you’re growing kale for the first time, you may have some questions about the best way to maximize your kale harvest. The great news is that you don’t have to devote a large amount of space or even grow a large number of plants to produce an impressive amount of this superfood.
With proper care and harvesting, you can enjoy this annual leafy green from about 4 inches tall up through the first snowfall in your area. Keep reading to learn how to harvest kale so it keeps growing throughout the season!
How Long Does Kale Take to Grow?
If you direct seed kale into your garden or a container, leaves will be ready to pick in 55 to 75 days. Transplanting seedlings will give you a head start and cut down the time to harvest to about 30 to 40 days. Baby kale leaves are ready to pick in just a few weeks after seeding.
Kale microgreens are much faster to grow, but you don’t get those lush, tasty leaves!
Kale Varieties You Might Enjoy Growing
Kale, or Brassica oleracea, is a leafy cultivar of cabbage. It is also known as curly-leafed cabbage. Kale varieties differ by stem length, leaf color, and leaf type.
The main leaf types include:
- Curly-leaf, like Siberian kale or Scarlet kale
- Bumpy-leaf, also called Lacinato or “dinosaur,” like Black Magic kale or Nero Di Toscana Cabbage
- Plain-leaf, like Red Russian kale or Tronchuda kale
When to Harvest Kale
How do you know when to pick kale? Kale is an easygoing leafy green that has a very long harvesting window.
Baby kale, or kale leaves that are small and tender, can be harvested and enjoyed a few weeks after direct seeding. Pick larger, more mature leaves when they’re about the size of your hand. A good rule of thumb is that smaller leaves are more tender than larger ones.
Kale will grow from early spring until early winter and it even favors temperatures that get down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6° C) or so. For this reason, it’s often referred to as winter kale. I enjoy eating it throughout the long kale season, but kale that is exposed to frost will have a sweeter flavor.
During the height of summer, many find that larger leaves tend to develop a bitter flavor. To avoid this, harvest leaves while they’re young during those hot times. In spring and fall, you can let leaves grow to full size. In frost-free climates, you can grow it year-round!
How to Harvest Kale
So how do you harvest kale? And more importantly, how to pick kale so it grows back all season long?
Always remove the lowest, largest, and outermost leaves first. Pick the leaves one by one and be sure to leave the smaller, central leaves on the plant along with the bud at the center. If you cut the central bud, your plant will not be able to produce more leaves.
As you harvest, remove and compost yellowing or damaged leaves. Doing this will also encourage the plants to produce more healthy leaves. You’ll find that it only takes a week or less for the next group of leaves to grow to maturity and that more baby leaves have also appeared.
Keep harvesting in this manner and you’ll have months of kale salads and kale chips to look forward to!
The equipment needed for harvesting kale is minimal. Some gardeners prefer to snap kale stems from the plants using their fingers. Others recommend using clean, sharp gardening shears.
I tend to use regular scissors for harvesting kale and many of the vegetables and flowers that my garden produces. Go for personal preference, access, and comfort on this one.
My community garden neighbor asked me recently how to keep kale fresh. How long does kale last?
To store freshly picked kale, wash all of the leaves and then blot them dry with a cloth. Store the whole leaves intact by placing them in a resealable plastic bag along with a paper towel so that the leaves don’t get soggy or slimy.
If refrigerated and stored like this, kale leaves will keep fresh for up to 2 weeks.
Do you already know whether an upcoming recipe requires chopped kale? If so, wash the leaves, remove the stems, and whizz the kale pieces in your salad spinner or blot dry. Refrigerate as before in a sealed plastic bag. Doing this in advance will make your weeknight dinner prep a breeze.
How to Use Kale
Kale has a reputation for being a superfood – a nutritionally-dense food that’s good for health. Kale is indeed high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but do you know how to prepare it to enjoy all of these benefits?
Small, tender kale leaves can be eaten raw in salads or stir-fried, whereas larger, less tender leaves are better chopped and added to soups and stews. I love adding a leaf or two of curly kale to my smoothies.
I’m also a huge fan of homemade kale chips! Just toss kale leaves with a bit of oil and salt and then bake them in a low-heat oven until crispy. There are a zillion recipes out there for creating interesting spice and flavor combinations.
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