How to Harvest Kale

One of my favorite things about kale is its easy and prolonged harvest. It’s the ultimate cut-and-come-again option for your veggie garden.

A close up of a kale plant, taken from the top. In the center of the frame are the small, light green young leaves, surrounded by darker green mature leaves. The almost-white stems contrast. Green and white text across the image towards the top of the frame and at the bottom.

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Along with being quick and easy to pick, this leafy green is packed with antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and K. After plants mature, it takes just a few minutes to gather enough greens for a tasty and nutritious meal.

Kale is an easy vegetable to grow and harvest. However, you still have to know the right time and method to harvest.

The timing and methods you use depend on if you are growing plants for baby greens or mature leaves. Continue reading to learn how to get the most from this nutritious green.

When to Pick Kale

Kale is ready to pick approximately 60 days after seeds have been planted. At this point, healthy plants will have upwards of ten leaves, with small ones in the center and larger ones on the outside.

A row of kale plants, pictured in a vegetable bed, with their dark green leaves, against a background of grass and shrubs, in bright sunshine.

If you’re looking to grow baby kale, plants will be ready to pick and enjoy in 25 to 30 days after they are sown.

The harvest period usually occurs once in late spring or early summer, and again in autumn.

It is worth noting there isn’t a perfect time to pick this green. If you like smaller leaves, collect them earlier when they are younger. And if you prefer larger kale, wait until it sizes up.

If you wait too long, however, older leaves may become discolored and eventually fall off the plant. If this happens, just remove and discard any leaves that have gone bad and continue harvesting.

A vertical image of a bunch of Brassica oleracea, with mature light green stems contrasting with deeper green leaves, on a dark wooden surface. The base of the stems are wrapped in a light purple cloth.

After the first harvest, you can come back for more when the leaves have grown to about the size of an adult hand. Depending on your growing zone and the time of year, you can gather new greens every one to two weeks.

How to Harvest Mature Kale

All varieties of this vegetable are harvested in the same way.

For mature plants, grasp the stem of a mature outer leaf at the base of the main stalk and pull down and out, away from the center, until it breaks. Repeat this process to pick all the greens you want.

Four harvested leaves of curly Brassica oleracea, photographed from the back, clearly showing their wide, light green stems and veins against a darker green leaf. The edges of the leaves are rough and curly, on a black background, with droplets of water, in bright light.

Make sure to leave at least five central leaves on the plant so it can continue to photosynthesize and produce new growth.

Never pick the innermost portion with the smallest leaves, as that’s where new growth originates.

If your soil is soft or your plants are newly established, you can use a knife or scissors instead of your hands. This prevents you from pulling the whole plant out of the ground or snapping the main stalk.

The torso of a woman dressed in a gray and white shirt, with a gray apron over it, holding a bunch of dark green, freshly harvested kale. The background is soft focus light blue weatherboards.

If you see discolored or heavily insect-eaten leaves, make sure to remove these and discard them, or add them to the compost pile. This allows the plant to put its energy into new and healthy growth.

It’s also a good time to check for slugs, aphids, and other damaging pests.

How to Harvest Baby Kale

If you’re growing baby greens for salads, they will be ready in 25-30 days. The Red Russian variety is often grown for these small leaves.

Close up of a young kale plant, with large bright green leaves on the outside, and small new leaves at the center. The tiny new shoots are just visible. The background is soil and vegetation, in bright sunlight.

Remove by using your fingers to pinch off individual leaves at the base of the stem. If you prefer, you can cut the stems with scissors or a knife.

My preferred method is to grab a handful and cut them off one to two inches above the ground, using a knife. This is a quick process that allows the plant to continue growing for future harvests.

A hand, from the bottom of the frame, grasping a bunch of freshly harvested kale. The bright green curly foliage contrasts with the textured, stone-colored background.

When choosing where to cut, consider the growth point. On a kale plant, this is the central portion of the plant where stems converge and new growth emerges.

To allow new growth, cut the stems above the growth point.

To do this, cut just below where the stem connects to the larger leaves. This will leave the smaller ones intact so the plant can continue growing.

Grab Some Greenery

Now that you know how to pick them, go out and get yourself some of these nutritious greens. Their flavor and versatility will reward you for weeks to come.

Close up of a dark, leafy cavolo nero plant, with large leaves on the outside, and small, tender new shoots at the center, in bright sunlight.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to use your harvest in the kitchen, consider making a butternut squash and kale pasta salad, from our sister site, Foodal, or a kale salad with garlic, lemon, and pecorino, also on Foodal.

If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments.

And make sure to check out the following articles for more information:

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About Briana Yablonski

Briana Yablonski grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania and currently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in plant sciences and has worked on farms in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Tennessee. Now, she spends many hours planting seeds and moving compost at her market garden. When she’s not immersed in the world of gardening, Briana enjoys walking dogs at the local shelter and riding her bike. She believes that gardening fosters curiosity, continuous learning, and wonder.

5 thoughts on “How to Harvest Kale”

  1. Friends who inherited an old, large garden offered me an opportunity to come into their somewhat overgrown garden and dig up what I wanted to take home and try planting in pots on my balcony. As they had small beautiful chard popping up literally in the lawn, I took a few of those, and they have massive *stands* of what I now believe to be overgrown Russian Red kale. I have no experience with kale not planted from seed so I took a couple of those too, because why not.

    The chard is doing great. bright, fresh, growing well.

    My experience with kale has only ever been to leave it till you’ve harvested the last of it in the winter then pull the plants but I thought perhaps they knew something about kale that I didn’t (entirely possible) But now I’m questioning what I should do with the kale. It’s flowering, so I looked up what to do with it, and it would appear that kale isn’t supposed to just be left in the garden year after year?

    These plants are VERY tall (about 3’) and have quite small leaves (4-5” long) every few inches up the stalk.

    Should I just let them finish flowering for the bees, then pull them? Wait for it to seed and then plant the seeds in the late summer? While I don’t mind having a plant that doesn’t produce food, I don’t have a ton of room on my balcony, so if there’s a way to make productive use of the space, I’d prefer it.

    Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    • One thing that some gardeners like to do is allow their kale to overwinter and then bolt in the second season, as you’ve described, and then harvest the flower stalks for eating as “napini kale.” The stalks and flower clusters are edible before they bloom, and some kale cultivars are more tender than others.

      Otherwise, yes, you could allow them to finish flowering and collect the seeds for replanting. ‘Red Russian’ is an heirloom cultivar, so it should grow true to seed, unless it’s been cross-pollinated with something else.

      Reply
  2. Briana,

    I’ve had a kale plant growing on my balcony for well over a year. I’ve made quite a few salads from the one plant. It is still healthy and growing strong.

    My question is regarding the stalk. With all the harvesting, the stalk is now bare and is about 8-10″ tall, with a full crop of leaves at the top. It’s almost like a palm tree! Is there a way to get the leaves to start growing down lower on the stalk at this point?

    Meanwhile, I’ve planted a second one next to it and it is also doing very well. I’ve been so encourage that I have been growing seedlings from seed and will be adding 3 or 4 more plants soon.

    I have an amazing balcony garden. I call it Sky Garden, as I live on the 34th floor of a high rise condo. The success of my kale has been a big part of inspiring me to add many more veggies.

    I look forward to your response.

    Reply
    • Hi Adrienne! Once the stalk has gotten that tall and is sprouting at the top like a palm tree (perfect description!), there’s no way to force it to produce leaves lower down again. If you decide to harvest the whole plant, you can always cook up the stalk – it’s tasty and so many people throw it out without realizing how good it is.
       
      Your garden sounds incredible, what other plants do you have going besides kale?

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply! I just started some new kale seedlings. Two kale plants produce well, but it will be nice to have extra to add to smoothies.
         
        So this year I decided to experiment with 3 raised garden beds, each 48″ long, and a variety of pots. I know I squeezed in more plants than advised, but so far it’s working out!
         
        I have already harvested two nice sized broccoli florets, and now little ones are appearing. I’ll make a list below of what I’ve got growing. Any advice from you will be so appreciated!
         
        Tomatoes – 4 plants, all different. Over 2 dozen tomatoes growing.
        Orange Lunchbox Peppers – 2 plants, many peppers growing
        Broccoli – 2 plants
        Jalapeno Peppers – 1 plant, many growing, one almost ready to pick
        Cabbage – 1 amazing plant. The cabbage is the size of a softball so far.
        Yellow Squash – 1 plant, 5 growing. Removed one with blossom end rot
        Zucchini – 1 plant, 3 growing
        Sweet Potatoes – 5 plants, growing lush vines so far
        Blackberries – 1 bush, only a few berries so far
        Basil – 2 lush plants
        Mint – 2 lush plants
        Cilantro – 2 sparse plants
        Dill – 1 newly planted
        And of course my list wouldn’t be complete without my Patio Peach Tree. I bought a scraggly twig of a tree about 5 years ago. It has produced little peaches in previous years, but I don’t think the flowers were cross pollinated this year. So no fruit in 2020.
         
        So, you asked, I answered! Hope you don’t mind the long email. 🙂
         
        Where are you located? I’m in Atlanta.

        Reply

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