Harvesting Kale (When and How to Harvest Kale)

Kale is a wonderful winter vegetable that is easy to grow and has the benefit of a continuous harvest if you know the correct way to harvest it so that it continues to grow.

You can harvest your first kale leaves around 60 days after you’ve sown the seeds. At this stage, the plant should have more than 10 leaves, with larger ones on the outside and smaller ones in the center. You want to harvest only the larger outer leaves and leave the inner ones to continue to grow.

Let’s look at why harvesting kale correctly is so important.

When to Harvest Kale

Kale leaves can be harvested just 60 days after growing from seed. Your kale plant should have around 10 or more leaves at this stage. There will be large outer leaves and much smaller leaves in the center of the plant. At this stage, the large outer leaves are ready for harvest.

If you’re growing your kale from seedlings or transplants, the larger leaves may be ready to be harvested in around 30 days from when you planted them. This will be the case if you’re growing baby kale or want to harvest small tender leaves to use in salads.

This means that if you planted your kale in mid-summer, the first leaves should be ready for harvest in early fall. If you can wait until the plant has been exposed to a light frost or two, you’ll find that the leaves will be a lot sweeter.

You could even experiment with this and pick some leaves before the frosts have arrived and then pick some more after a frost. This will allow you to tell the difference between frosted and non-frosted plants.

However, because your kale plant will continue to produce many more new leaves in the center of the plant, there is really no perfect time to harvest. It mainly depends on your personal preference and what you want to use the kale for.

If you want small leaves that are more tender, you can harvest as soon as the outer leaves are the size that you want. But remember to only harvest the outer leaves and leave the inner ones to continue to grow.

One thing to remember is to harvest your kale often throughout the growing season. If you let the outer leaves get too old, they may turn yellow and eventually even fall off the plant. When this happens, just remove those old leaves and throw them in the compost.

After the first harvest, you can continue to harvest the outer leaves as they reach the size that you want. In general, you want leaves that are around the size of an adult hand. This means that you can continue to harvest leaves from your kale plant on a weekly basis.

How to Harvest Kale

Once your kale leaves are large enough, grab the lower section of the base of an outer leaf and pull it down and then out away from the center of the plant. This action should encourage the leaf to break off easily. Repeat with the other outer leaves until you have enough.

Whenever you harvest some kale leaves, it’s really important that you only harvest the outer leaves at the base. You want to ensure that there are at least 5 small center leaves remaining on the plant.

These inner leaves will continue to photosynthesize in order to support the plant’s continued growth. Therefore, make sure that you never harvest any of the inner leaves if you want your plant to continue to grow more lovely fresh leaves.

Instead of breaking the leaves off the plant, you can use a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen scissors to cut off the outer leaves. However, make sure that you cut them close to the main stem without doing any damage to the stem itself or the inner leaves.

Harvesting Baby Kale

Some gardeners prefer to harvest baby kale leaves to use in salads. You can do this as soon as the outer leaves are large enough by just pinching off each outer leaf at the base with your fingers.

Alternatively, you can use a pair of kitchen scissors to just cut a number of young kale leaves from the outside of the plant. Cut these around 1 to 2 inches above ground level and only ever cut the outer leaves, leaving the inner ones to continue to grow.

Useful Tips for a Successful Kale Harvest

To ensure that you can harvest leaves from your kale plant for many months, from fall through to the following spring, here are some useful tips to remember.

  • Mature kale leaves should be around the size of your hand.

Once the outer leaves reach this size, they are definitely ready for harvest. Leaves on new plants should reach this size after around 60 days from when you planted the seeds. If you leave the outer leaves to grow larger than this, you might find that they get a little bitter and may also be tougher.

  • Baby kale leaves can be harvested after just 30 days.

If you want to use some baby kale leaves in your salads and want them to be nice and tender, you can harvest some of the outer leaves around 30 days after you planted the seeds. Be sure to only harvest the outer leaves and make sure that there are plenty of inner leaves left on the plant.

  • Harvest leaves close to the base of the plant.

Whenever you harvest leaves from your kale, make sure that you cut them close to the base of the plant, as these leaves will not continue to grow. If you don’t cut close to the ground, you’re going to have lots of leaf base sections left around the perimeter of the plant.

  • Be careful not to cut the roots or the stem of the plant.

When you harvest your kale leaves, take extra care not to damage the main stem or roots of the plant. This way, the plant can continue to grow and produce many more new leaves.

  • Always harvest the oldest outer leaves first.

It’s important that you only harvest the oldest outer leaves of your kale plant so that the inner leaves can continue to provide your plant with the energy to keep it growing.

  • Never harvest leaves from the top of the plant.

The top of the plant is where the terminal bud is. If you damage this, then the plant will stop growing and won’t be able to produce any more leaves.

  • Harvest only what you need.

At each harvest, you don’t want to pick more than a handful of leaves at a time so that the remainder can continue to grow for a continuous harvest right through fall, winter, and early spring.

  • Make sure that you harvest leaves regularly.

Harvesting kale leaves on at least a weekly basis will encourage the plant to continue to grow more leaves. On the other hand, if you leave the older leaves to die without harvesting them, your plant will slow down its growth. Therefore, make it a habit to harvest the outer leaves at least every five to seven days.

  • For sweeter leaves, wait until after the first frost.

If you want lovely sweet leaves, it’s recommended that you wait until after the first frost before you start harvesting your kale leaves. The reason for this is that when your plant is exposed to frost, it will increase the amount of sugar in the leaves. However, don’t let the outer leaves get too large while you wait for a frost. You can harvest these as they grow until a frost arrives.

  • Remove any older leaves that have started to yellow.

While you’re harvesting healthy leaves, make sure that you remove any older leaves that have started to turn yellow and pop these into your compost. If you leave these on the plant, they will use up the plant’s energy, and this will stop new growth from happening.

  • Protect your plant from extreme weather conditions.

If you want to continue harvesting kale throughout the winter and you’re likely to expect some extremely cold conditions, cover your kale plants with a cold frame or a polytunnel. Although kale benefits from a few frosts, it won’t continue growing if it’s covered in snow and the ground becomes frozen. Therefore, if you protect the leaves from excessive cold, you’ll be able to harvest continuously throughout the winter.

  • Don’t store your harvested kale for too long.

The benefits of having a continuous growth of lovely fresh kale leaves mean that you should only have to harvest enough to use straight away. This avoids the need of having to store your harvested leaves in the refrigerator, as these will only last a maximum of two weeks.