How to Pick Kale from Your Garden



Kale, that leafy green powerhouse, has found its way into the hearts and gardens of health enthusiasts across the country. Growing kale at home is not only a step towards sustainable living but also a chance to enjoy this nutrient-dense vegetable at its freshest.

However, knowing when and how to harvest your kale can mean the difference between a bitter bite and a sweet, tender leaf. The key to a bountiful kale harvest lies in the timing and technique. As I recall my first foray into gardening, the anticipation of plucking those perfect leaves was both exhilarating and a bit daunting.

To ease your journey from garden to table, we’ve included a YouTube video demonstration that shows the ins and outs of kale harvesting. This guide will arm you with the knowledge needed to ensure your garden remains healthy and your kale, utterly delicious. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into the world of kale harvesting, where every leaf tells the story of your care and dedication.

Identifying Harvest-Ready Kale

Knowing when your kale is ripe for the picking is essential for capturing that perfect balance of flavor and texture. Picture your kale plant about 12 inches tall, with the outer leaves stretching as long as your hand – that’s your cue that it’s typically been 50 to 55 days since you planted those seeds and they’re ready for harvest.

If you can wait until the leaves are roughly the size of your palm, usually around 70 days after planting, you’ll be rewarded with leaves that are tender to the bite and free of bitterness. Timing is everything, and the ideal moment to harvest is a sweet spot before the kale begins to flower, which can lead to a less desirable, bitter taste.

It’s also crucial to pay attention to the maturity of the variety you’ve planted, as each type of kale has its own schedule for reaching peak deliciousness. By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll ensure that each leaf from your garden is nothing short of perfection.

Harvesting Techniques for Kale

When it’s time to harvest your kale, the ‘cut-and-come-again’ approach is a gardener’s best friend. This sustainable technique involves snipping the outermost leaves at the base, close to the stem, while ensuring you never harvest more than a third of the plant at once.

This method promotes continued growth, allowing you to enjoy multiple harvests throughout the season. There are two main methods for harvesting kale: selectively picking individual leaves or, when you need a larger quantity, uprooting the entire plant. For the selective approach, gently snap off the leaves you need, focusing on the mature outer ones. This method is particularly useful when you’re cooking for one or two. However, if you’re looking to make a big batch of kale chips or a hearty stew, you might opt to harvest the whole plant. When doing so, make sure to pull the mature outer leaves downwards and away from the center, preserving at least five central leaves.

This method ensures the plant continues to thrive and produce new leaves for future harvests. By mastering these techniques, you’ll keep your kale plants healthy and productive, and your kitchen stocked with fresh, home-grown greens.

Tools and Techniques for Clean Harvesting

When it comes to harvesting kale, the right tools and techniques are paramount to ensure you don’t harm the plant, allowing it to continue thriving. Pruning shears are your go-to tool for a clean cut. Gently snip the kale leaves at their base, close to the stem, but be careful not to cut into the stem or root itself.

This precision promotes the plant’s ability to regrow, giving you a continual supply of fresh greens. Ensure your shears or knife are clean to prevent introducing any diseases to the plant. As you harvest, be vigilant and remove any yellowing leaves you encounter. This not only tidies up your plant but also encourages the growth of healthy new foliage. For those tender baby kale leaves, a delicate pinch or a careful cut at the stem’s base is all it takes, or you can harvest a small bunch by cutting one to two inches above the soil line.

This allows the baby kale to regrow, ensuring you can come back for more in the near future. By using these tools and techniques, you’ll keep your kale plants robust and ready for the next harvest, while your kitchen benefits from a steady stream of garden-fresh leaves.

Maintaining Garden Health During Harvest

As the harvest season rolls in, your kale plants become a hub of activity, not just for you but for the entire ecosystem of your garden. To maintain the vitality of your garden, regular harvesting is a must. Aim to harvest kale leaves once or twice a week; this consistent picking encourages the plants to produce more foliage and can help deter pests that might otherwise take up residence. When you’re out in the garden, prioritize the largest and oldest leaves at the base of the plant.

These are the ones that have done their duty, and by picking them first, you help prevent the plant from bolting, which can halt leaf production. Removing these mature leaves stimulates the plant to push out fresh, new growth. As you’re harvesting, keep an eye out for any leaves that have been compromised, showing signs of discoloration or damage from insects. Removing these leaves not only tidies up your plant but also promotes healthier growth overall. It’s also an excellent opportunity to inspect for common pests like slugs and aphids.

By staying vigilant during your harvest, you can catch these critters early and take action to protect your kale. This careful attention to both the plants and their surrounding environment ensures that your garden remains a thriving source of fresh produce throughout the harvest season.

Storing and Using Fresh Kale

Once you’ve lovingly harvested your kale, ensuring its freshness while stored is just as important as the care you took while growing it. Start by washing the leaves thoroughly to remove any dirt or lingering pests.

Then, dry them completely; moisture is the enemy of freshness when it comes to leafy greens. If you’re not a fan of kale stems, now’s the time to remove them, though they can be quite tasty when cooked properly. Next, grab a resealable plastic bag and line it with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture, then gently place your kale inside and seal it up. This makeshift humidifier can keep your kale crisp for up to two weeks in the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer. For those who prefer to wait to wash their kale until just before it hits the pan, wrap the unwashed leaves in paper towels and slide them into a zip-top bag. This method also helps maintain freshness and makes it easy to grab just what you need for your next culinary creation.

Speaking of cooking, kale’s versatility shines in the kitchen. From hearty soups and stews to vibrant salads and smoothies, this leafy green can elevate any meal. If you’ve overwintered your kale, consider harvesting ‘napini kale’—the sweet, tender shoots that emerge before the plant flowers—or let it bloom to collect seeds for next season’s planting. No matter how you choose to use it, fresh kale is a testament to the joy of garden-to-table living.


As we wrap up our guide to harvesting kale, it’s clear that the journey from seed to salad bowl is filled with moments of learning and delight. Remember, the key to a successful harvest starts with recognizing when kale is ready to be picked – those vibrant leaves reaching the size of your palm are your signal. Employing the right techniques, such as the cut-and-come-again method, ensures your plants remain productive and your harvests bountiful.

Garden health is integral, and your regular maintenance not only fosters robust growth but also keeps pests at bay. The fruits of your labor extend beyond the garden, as fresh kale brings nutrition and flavor to your kitchen, enhancing an array of dishes. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a green-thumbed novice, the act of harvesting your own kale is a rewarding experience.

It connects you to the earth, provides a sense of accomplishment, and most importantly, it’s a reminder that the best meals are often those we’ve had a hand in creating from the ground up. So, take these tips, nurture your garden, and savor the joy of harvesting and enjoying your very own home-grown kale.