When To Harvest Kale To Keep Plant Growing

If you do not like kale, you follow the wrong recipes. 

It is that simple.

Raw, mature kale leaves may not taste great right off the plant. But kale can be enjoyed in many ways if you know how to use and prepare it.

The secret lies in cut-and-regrow harvesting to encourage the plant to produce more leaves.

Do not wait too long to harvest your kale. Pick the leaves when they are no bigger than the palm of your hand. Harvest weekly and your plant will keep producing tender, tasty leaves.

It is our own fault. As gardeners, we like plants to grow big and tall. But you need to think differently about kale. Mature plants with big leaves are great for cooking but harder to enjoy fresh or blanched.

Read on, and I will show you how to harvest for maximum yield and several ways to use kale to suit everyone.

Why Kale?

Kale was THE superfood [1] everyone talked about a few years ago. Even stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan included a segment about kale in one of his specials.

And it is easy not to like kale. Raw mature leaves can be a challenge to eat. 

I know mature leaves taste great if you remove the stems, chop them finely, and mix them in a salad. Still, I maintain that there are easier and tastier ways to enjoy kale. 

Simply put, tender leaves taste great, are good for you, and kale plants can be grown year-round.

Here are 4 good reasons to grow kale in your garden:

  • Nutritious: Kale is loaded with antioxidants and essential nutrients [1]
  • Easy to Grow: Even novice gardeners can succeed with kale
  • Versatile: Kale can be used in various dishes, from salads to smoothies
  • Continuous Harvest: Done correctly, you will have a constant supply of tasty leaves

Planting and Growing Kale

Before you can harvest kale, you need to grow it.

I have written full guides on growing kale outdoors and indoors, but here are some key points to keep in mind:

Kale seedling sprouting true leaves
Curly kale seedling with its first true leaf
  • Seeds or Seedlings: Start from seed or buy seedlings at your local nursery.
  • Seedling Care: Transplant seedlings into well-prepared garden beds.
  • Spacing Matters: Allow 30 cm / 12 inches between kale plants for optimal growth.
  • Cool-Season Crop: Kale is a cool-weather crop perfect for early spring and fall planting.
  • Different Varieties: Explore kale cultivars like ‘Red Russian’ or my favorite curly kale.
  • Raised Beds: Consider using raised beds for better drainage.

When Is Kale Ready to Harvest?

Timing is important when harvesting kale.

Harvest too early, and you will stunt the plant. Wait too long, and the leaves mature and may taste bitter.

I know my kale plant is ready to be harvested when I see at least 5-6 leaves, and the leaves reach the size of my palm and are similar in size and shape.

Harvesting kale growing in container
Harvesting tender kale leaves

How to Harvest Kale for Maximum Yield

You can harvest your plants weekly during their growth cycle.

In fact, regular harvesting will encourage the plant to produce more new leaves.

But do not be too aggressive. Always leave the main stem, 2 larger leaves, and all the tiny leaves on the plant. 

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Pick Kale Leaves: Start by picking the larger outer leaves
  2. Cut-and-Come-Again: Leave the smaller, tender leaves to continue growing
  3. Prune Older Leaves: Prune older, yellow, and damaged leaves to encourage new growth from the center of the plant. Discarded leaves can be composted
  4. Protect Main Stalk: Do not cut the main stalk; new leaves will grow from the central stem
Always rinse kale before use
Rinse kale leaves before use

Ways to Use Your Harvested Kale

I have decided to divide this section into two parts:

  1. Healthy ways to eat kale (as it is good for you)
  2. Kale recipes to savor

Healthy ways to eat kale (as it is good for you)

Here are 3 healthy (and tasty) ways to eat kale. 

  1. Kale Chips: Toss kale with olive oil, season with salt and spices, then bake for a crunchy, healthy snack. Leave the oven door slightly ajar, but be aware that there is a smell that some people find less than pleasing. 
  2. Salads: Remove the stem, chop finely, and use as a base for fresh or warm salads.
  3. Smoothies: A great way to get a nutritional boost for people on the go.

Kale Recipes to Savor

Here are my favorite ways to use this leafy green. Fresh and warm salads are a close contender but do not quite make the top 3. 

  1. Kale and Quinoa Salad: Mix finely chopped kale and quinoa with pickled peppers, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, and your preferred spice blend for a nutritious warm or cold salad fit for a meal.
  2. Kale in Hearty Soups: Add chopped kale to any soup a few minutes before you serve for a nutritional boost. 
  3. Creamed Kale: It is not the healthiest way to enjoy kale, but it is a Christmas favorite where I live. See the full recipe below:

Creamed Kale recipe

This recipe is a traditional Christmastime favorite. It is not the healthiest of side dishes, but a little goes a long way. Great to enjoy with pork or even Porchetta if you are so inclined.

Butter, milk, cream, and cheese can easily be substituted with non-dairy alternatives. But the recipe below is a twist on “the original” and an homage to old-school cooking.


  • 500 gr / 6-7 cups of fresh curly kale
  • 2 tbsp. of butter
  • 3 dl / 10 fl oz of cream
  • 1 dl / 3 fl oz of milk
  • 1 dl / 3 fl oz of grated cheese
  • 1 ml measure of grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1 ml measure of white pepper

How to prepare:

  1. Remove the stem from the leaves and cut into strips
  2. Fry kale gently in the butter for a couple of minutes; do not let the kale change color or brown
  3. Add milk and cream and simmer under a lid for about 10 minutes
  4. Remove from heat, add cheese and nutmeg, and season to taste
  5. Serve when the cheese has melted
Creamed kale tastes better than it looks
Creamed kale: 23 December 2021

FAQs About Harvesting Kale So It Keeps Growing

Here are some quick-fire answers to common questions.

How often can I harvest kale?

1-2 times per week during the growth cycle.

Should I remove all the leaves at once?

No, always leave a couple of large leaves on the plant. The cut-and-come-again method allows you to continue picking fresh leaves from one and the same plant.

Tender kale leaf
A perfect-sized leaf

Can I compost kale scraps?

Yes, kale scraps should be added to your compost pile.

What should I do with the stalks?

Stalks from most kale varieties are edible and are great to chop and use for stews, soups, and stir-fries.

Can I harvest kale in summer?

Kale is a cool-season crop, but you can grow it in summer. Avoid full sun in the summer and cover with fiber cloth to protect against snails, slugs, and other pests.

Summary: Helpful Tips for Successful Kale Harvest

Here are some key pointers to keep in mind when harvesting kale. Follow my simple rules, and you will have a cut-and-regrow plant to enjoy all season long.

  • Tender Leaves: Harvest leaves when they are the size of your hand for tender, flavorful greens.
  • Avoid Cutting the Main Stem: Avoid cutting the main stem to encourage continuous growth.
  • Remove Older Leaves: Regularly remove older, yellowing, and damaged leaves to make room for new growth.
  • Prune Outside-In: Pick leaves from the outer perimeter and work your way in.
  • Keep Plants Watered: Proper watering is essential for healthy plants.
  • Feed your plants: Improve the soil with compost and a well-balanced fertilizer every 3-4 weeks.
  • Mulch for Moisture: Mulch around kale plants to retain soil moisture and control weeds.

Kale is not everyone’s favorite. But I feel kale has been given a bad rap for the wrong reasons.

Gardeners harvest the leaves too late or way too early. Kale is a plant that should be harvested regularly, and the small, tender leaves are tasty. As they say, try it – you will like it.

Helpful sources:

[1] https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/antioxidants-your-immune-system-super-foods-optimal-health

Mattias Magnusson: Hello, I'm Mattias, a passionate and experienced gardening enthusiast. I am the creator of MattMagnusson.com, your guide to year-round herb and veggie growing. Let's simplify green living, no matter your space or location.