Growing kale at home but don’t know whether you should wait a bit longer or harvest right away?
Don’t fret. We know the feeling.
You want the kale to be as tasty and crispy as it can be. That salad you’re going to make needs to be at its best – right?
Well, you need to understand when and how to harvest kale to make that possible.
And luckily for you, we know everything about the plant after years of growing it. And we’re going to teach you all that.
Check below for a brief yet complete guide on how and when to harvest your growing kale.
What is Kale?
Kale is a pretty, leafy green vegetable that you can eat during the early stages of its life. You can also eat it at its latest stages (keep this in mind).
The plant is very cold-hardy, so it can handle pretty low temps without dying. There’s evidence the plant actually tastes better after going through a frost – isn’t that awesome?
On top of that, kale has a lot of vascular tissue. The stems tend to be pretty tender when it’s still growing, turning denser and crispier as it matures.
That’s why it’s essential to when it’s the right time, so you get exactly the type of leaf you’re looking for.
Harvesting Kale at the Right Time
To harvest kale at the right time means looking closely at a few things, like how long it’s been growing when you want to enjoy it and what variety you’re growing.
All this information will help you determine how close the plant is to harvest time. Here’s a more detailed explanation:
- Early-Stage Kale
First, you should identify what you’re expecting from the kale you harvest.
If you’re growing a variety of short-season or early-stage kale, it’s best to start harvesting when the frilly leaves reach about 8 to 10 inches in length. This is important because these varieties grow and mature fast, meaning that you should cut them off as soon as they’re ready for harvest.
These kales are ideal for warm areas or cold ones (under 20 and over 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Places too for the kale will make it harder for the plant to mature past a month. Also, it is more likely to get worse and not be edible.
Here are some short-season kale varieties and their number of days to harvest:
- ‘Curly’: 30 – 45 days
- ‘Russian Red’: 25 – 50 days
- ‘Siberian’: 25 – 50 days
- ‘White Russian’: 25 – 50 days
- Late-Stage Kale
A late harvesting stage will give more leaves with a large size each. But there’s a catch. They may have to stay a lot longer in the soil before you can cut them off.
It’s best to start harvesting when the leaves reach 12 to 14 inches in size. While these varieties grow slower than short-season ones, they also mature later. Therefore, by keeping them harvested at a larger size, you’ll have flavorful produce for longer periods.
If you’re growing for fall or winter consumption when they’re sweeter, you should consider how much time you have before the coldest months arrive in your area.
If you don’t get very far into maturity before that happens, cover up the bed with row covers that can keep plants warm during the frosts or coldest days of the winter. This is to prevent the young kales from getting frost-damaged.
Here are some late-stage kale types and how many days they take to harvest:
- ‘Chinese’: 50 – 70 days
- ‘Dwarf Blue’: 40 – 50 days
- ‘Lacinato’: 65 – 80 days
- ‘Premier’: 60 – 80 days
- ‘Redbor’: 55 – 75 days
- ‘Tronchuda’: 60 – 85 days
- ‘Vates’: 50-80 days
- ‘Winterbor’: 50 – 65 days
Tips to Consider to Know When to Harvest
While the type of kale is probably the most crucial factor, there are still many other aspects to consider, such as:
- Growth Rate
See how fast your crop is growing: This is one of the main factors determining how soon you should harvest your kale.
By looking at how fast each leaf grows, how much light it receives, whether there are pests around, and how healthy it looks overall.
You can make sure to get excellent yield at the right time – for the best taste and texture if the plant looks healthy and large.
- Consider the Environment
The amount of time it takes precisely for your kale to grow depends entirely on how long you want to wait before the environment gets too hostile.
Long-season ones tend to be more resistant to colder weather, so they can stay outside a lot longer than the other varieties, especially in fall and winter.
But if your area gets hot and dry quickly, you’ll need to harvest earlier than usual. If that happens, try growing the shorter-season varieties.
- Your Needs
After how long you should start harvesting is dependent on how much kale do you need.
The maximum amount of time to wait for harvest is around 4 months. This is if you want to gather enough leaves to feed an entire family for weeks.
But it’s best to harvest them as soon as they produce flowers or even before, so you get them at their best.
How to Harvest Kale: Two Methods
Harvesting kale is pretty easy, as long as you know what level of kale maturity you’re getting.
Here are two methods to consider depending on whether you’re harvesting when fully mature or when it’s still growing:
#1. How to Harvest Fully Mature Kale?
Mature kales have larger, sweeter, and softer leaves that are ideal for eating directly. Follow these tips for easier harvesting of mature leaves:
- Try pulling the leaves you want out and down gently but repeatedly. Don’t pull them up as this could get the main stem out of the soil, causing irreparable damage to the plant by mistake.
- Cutting with scissors or pruners is always helpful if you want to avoid damage. Try to cut only the stalks from the leaves you prefer while leaving the main stem untouched.
- Avoid cutting the main stem close to the roots if you want the plant to keep giving leaves afterward. Also, leave some foliage on the plant (at least 3 small leaves to keep receiving sunlight and growing).
- Leave small foliage to grow further. This also helps to receive more and better harvest a few weeks/months later.
- Discard yellowing, dark-brown, or pest-infested leaves. They may taste not only bad but also produce mild to severe stomach issues. You can always use them in compost.
- Mature leaves tend to turn bad faster than young leaves, so you should not store them for longer than a week. Preferably, eat them within 3 days of harvest.
#2. How to Harvest Young Kale
Young kale leaves are better for salads, given their crunchiness and slight pungency. Most of these are ready when they’re still bright green and still smaller than the palm of your hand. These tips will help you harvest them:
- You won’t be able to pull these directly from the stem, as the stalks are often greener and more solid/harder to break. Instead, you will likely need to use scissors or pruners.
- Avoid pulling because younger kales are also less established, so the roots may get out of the soil more easily than you may realize.
- There will be young leaves that are still babies, to the point of being inedible. These are better left in the main stem to grow further.
- Try to cut the parts on the bottom part of the kale plant instead of the ones on top. Try cutting directly above from where they connect to the main stem.
- Young leaves are often ready to be used for salads and soups. But you can also store them for long, up to 2 weeks refrigerated would be a reasonable amount of time.
How to Harvest Kale So It Keeps Growing?
Want to keep getting excellent yields from your kale plant? Then cut it gently enough so the plant can thrive going forward, even without its precious leaves.
Here’s a step-by-step process to follow:
- Start by cutting the leaves using a tool instead of your hands. This will prevent any unwanted damage from pulling that may affect the stem or the roots.
- Cut the leaves EXACTLY where they meet with the main stem, in other words, where they start growing out. Cutting the stem may cause damage, and cutting them too far from the stem may send nutrients unnecessarily to that portion.
- Choose the most mature of the leaves and leave the younger ones back. Without leaves, the kale will struggle to keep growing, especially in hostile environments (too hot or too dry).
- Similarly, avoid the leaves growing on the top and center. They will be younger and more likely to affect how new leaves grow, so don’t cut them.
- You should leave AT LEAST one-third of the leaves behind. This should be enough for the plant to keep getting nourished from the sun and produce more leaves going forward.
This method should keep the plant healthy and producing new leaves. In some cases, you’ll be able to keep harvesting the plant almost every day.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. How long do kale plants live?
The kale plant tends to grow for about 2 years. As a biennial, kale tends to produce edible foliage its entire lifespan.
Having said that, some varieties may last a lot longer than 2 years. In fact, in the right conditions, the kale plant may last up to 5 years without problems. During this period, you may have the chance to harvest until it dies.
#2. Does kale get sweeter in the winter?
Yes. This is a process call cold-induced sweetening and happens with many green-leaf vegetables. This occurs because the plant starts to convert the starch in the leaves into sugar to protect itself. Surprisingly, other vegetable plants like carrots, potatoes, and even broccoli may do the same.
As a recommendation for sweeter kale, let it go through one or two frosts but not too many. This should be enough to sweeten the kale leaves without causing unwanted frost damage.
#3. Is it bad when kale turns yellow?
If the leaves are turning yellow outside, that’s a sign of chlorophyll loss. The plant is either suffering from a lack of sunlight, nutrients, or water.
If the kale is turning yellow after harvest, it is in the first decomposing stages. As long as the leaves don’t feel droopy and overly humid, you can still consume them.
In short, yellow kale leaves are not exactly wrong. But don’t test it – consume them before the yellow turns brown or worse.
Get Your Kale Leaves Today!
As you can see, learning when and how to harvest kale is a lot easier than it seems.
The focus? Don’t cause damage to the plant so you can enjoy a later harvest.
More importantly, consider what kind of kale you want before harvest, so you don’t get them before or after your preferable state.
Either way, don’t ever stop enjoying kale. Not only is it a nutritious vegetable but also surprisingly tasty. There’s no drawback to learning how to harvest kale.