Kale is one of the leafy green vegetables a lot of people eat in their meals and salad. It has gained a lot of popularity of late, mainly because of its nutrients, which has led people to refer to it as a superfood.
Because of that popularity, a lot of people are now selling kale, and others are even planting it. If you are considering adding kale to your garden, you might wonder about harvesting your kale. But, first, there are a few things you need to know.
Kale is a cool-season plant that thrives in the fall and spring seasons. There are different types of kale you can choose from, including;
When To Harvest Kale
This is one of the most important things you should know. Harvesting the kale too early might leave you with kales that are not sweet enough, and when you harvest too late, the leaves might be tough or even dry.
Kales are fast-growing plants. If you plant the seeds directly into the garden, the kales mature in around 55-75 days. However, if you transplant them, they will mature in around 30-40 days. So if you want to harvest baby kale leaves, you can do that 25-30 days after planting.
When the kales mature, they have smaller and tender leaves on the inside and larger leaves on the outside. At that point, they normally have ten or more leaves. If you want mature leaves, harvest them when they are the size of your hand.
However, you should note that there is no perfect harvest time, and it depends on the type of kale you want to eat. If you wait too long, the leaves wither and fall off the plant.
Kales grow starting early spring through to early winter. They withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees F (-6 degrees C). As a result, kale leaves exposed to frost develop a sweeter flavor. That phenomenon is known as cold-induced sweetening or chill sweetening.
That is where the kale plant converts its starch into sugars, which protects its leaves from freezing. During summer, don t let the leaves grow too big; otherwise, they may develop a bitter taste.
After your first harvest, you can harvest more kale leaves from the same plant after the smaller leaves develop to the size of your hand. Depending on the growing zone and season, you can harvest kale leaves after 1 or 2 weeks.
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How To Harvest Kale
To harvest your kale, you have to use the proper method to ensure that you do not overharvest or kill the plant. For example, you can use your fingers to pluck the leaves or use clean and sharp gardening shears.
To harvest your kale, start by harvesting the larger and outermost leaves. For mature and full-size kale leaves, wait until the plant is around 12 inches long and the leaves are the size of your hand.
When harvesting, ensure that you leave about five leaves on the plant to promote photosynthesis and enable the plant to continue growing. Be careful not to interfere or cut the bud in the middle of the kale plant because that could kill your plant.
To harvest mature kale leaves, you can use your hand to pull the leaves down and out, at the base, where it joins the main stem. Alternatively, you can cut using shears or garden scissors.
Those are good if your plant is new or if the soil is still soft because pulling could result in you uprooting the whole plant.
If you notice any withering or discolored leaves, or those eaten by insects, remove them from the plant immediately. You can throw them away or add them to your compost heap to increase the fertility of the soil.
It also helps you minimize the chances of spreading any insects or diseases to the rest of the plant.
If you want to harvest baby kale leaves, wait until they are 2-4 inches long. Then, if you want baby kale leaves, you have to plant a lot of kales and understand that it will take the kale plant a long time to fully mature.
To harvest baby kales, use scissors to cut off the leaves as close to the base as you can get. Then, depending on your plant's growth, you can harvest as many leaves as you want to, but always leave 1/3 of them for continued growth.
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How Long Kales Live
Kale is a biennial plant, meaning that it has a 2-year long life cycle. After two years of growing your kale, it will start producing flowers and seeds, which is a sign that you should plant new kale plants.
However, most of us plant kale as an annual plant, mainly because of adverse weather conditions and insect infestation. However, there are perennial kale types that live for 5-7 years.
Even though kale plants might do well in the frost, they will eventually die if the temperature drops below 20 degrees F.
Heat is a greater enemy to kale plants than cold because, during summer, the plant becomes dehydrated, which causes the leaves to discolor, become tougher and bitter. There are also a lot of insects and pests that attack the plant during summer.
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Prolonging Kale Life
To prolong the life of your kale and increase the time you harvest, you have to protect it from both adverse heat and cold temperatures.
The easiest way to keep your plants from the adverse summer heat is planting them during early spring and finishing your harvest in early summer before the heat becomes unbearable.
If you wish to continue eating kale, you can then plant other crops during the late summer or early autumn when temperatures begin to drop.
Alternatively, if you do not want to kill your first crop, you can protect them from the summer heat by offering them shade during the hottest times of the day. That helps keep them cool and reduces the level of evaporation.
When covering your plants, ensure you leave some space for sunlight to encourage photosynthesis and continued growth. You also have to ensure there is free airflow.
The best way to do that is by using shade cloth. You can secure it over the plants using a PVC frame, porch railings, trellis, or lawn furniture with zip ties or clips. Do not cover the plants on all four sides for proper airflow and access to sunlight.
Also, leave a space of about 2 feet between the shade cloth and the plants. That allows for any extra growth and also fresh air circulation.
You can also keep your kale plants alive during extreme summer temperatures by removing 90% of the leaves. That helps you remove any sick leaves and those infested with insects. It also allows you easier access to spray and maintains your kale plant.
After around two weeks, the plant will have new leaves that you can start harvesting, and they also allow for continued photosynthesis.
To protect your kale from the cold, use hoop houses, row covers, or cold frames. These act as insulation to your plants and keep them safe from the cold. You can also drape a tarp over the plants and secure them with some hay.
You can choose to harvest the kale under the covers or leave them until spring, when you can uncover them.
If you do not want to continue growing your kale plant, you can kill it by harvesting its buds. These are unopened flower heads that appear on mature kale plants when they begin to blot because of the heat in early summer or late spring.
Those buds are also edible, which minimizes your waste when you want to discontinue kale growth. They start as tightly wrapped green groups of tender small flowers called florets, and that is when they have the best texture to eat them.
Although the flowers that bloom from those buds are also edible, they tend to be toothy and tough.
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How To Store Kale Leaves
Depending on the number of kale plants you have and how many leaves you harvested from each, it might be hard for you to eat the whole harvest at once. Therefore, you need to come up with the most effective way to store the excess leaves.
If you place your freshly picked kale leaves in the fridge immediately after harvest, they could last for about 2-3 weeks. However, it depends on how well you store them. You need to place them in the fridge with protection; otherwise, they will wilt fast.
The best way to protect them is to wrap each bunch in a plastic bag or a reusable bag. You should also avoid washing the leaves before storing them because the moisture on the leaves makes them go bad faster.
Alternatively, you could freeze the kale leaves to increase their lifespan to around 4-6 weeks. To do that, wash the leaves, then chop them, and place them in the freezer. Having them there for over six weeks, however, will make them bitter.