When harvesting kale, it's always better to pick the leaves a few days early rather than a few days late. Kale leaves tend to get tough and bitter if they stay on the plant too long. Don't worry, the plants will continue to grow and produce leaves as long as growing conditions are favorable. Kale is usually sweetest after the plants have been exposed to a hard freeze. Some of the best tasting kale is harvested by brushing back a few inches of snow to reveal those tender leaves.
We like to wait until plants are at least 8 inches tall before
harvesting our kale leaves, which are usually about the size of your
hand. Much smaller than this and the leaves just aren't big enough to
really mess with and you end up doing harm to the plants. Always
harvest the lowest outside leaves first and work your way up and toward
the middle. This way, you're picking the older leaves first. It's best
just to use your finger and pinch off the leaves one by one.
When harvesting kale, take as many leaves as you think you'll use. Always leave a few leaves on the plant and never cut the bud at the center of the plant, otherwise the production will stop. If you plan to use more leaves a couple of days after harvesting, go ahead and take those as well. They will store in the fridge just fine until you're ready to use them and this is usually preferable to leaving them on the plant.
you see any leaves that are yellow or brown, go ahead and pick those
and add them to your compost pile. The idea is to keep the plant
growing and producing new leaves as much as possible.
If the weather is expected to get hot, you can go ahead and use a knife and cut off the plant an inch or so above the level of the ground. This is a quicker way to harvest a bunch of leaves fast, but you end up sacrificing the plant in the process. This is a good option when harvesting the last of the spring kale.
After harvesting kale, go ahead and rinse off the leaves. If using immediately, soak the leaves for a couple of minutes in cold water to get the grit off. Otherwise, just put it in an unsealed plastic bag with a damp paper towel and place it in the crisper drawer of your fridge. It will last for up to a week. Before eating or chopping, remove the stalks and thick ribs and keep the leafy green parts.
Now that you've got some freshly harvested kale leaves, it's time for a few of our favorite recipes that feature kale.