Growing Vegetables/Kale


QUESTION: Hi Catherine,

I'm wondering what to do with my Kale ... I've been growing it all summer, but it's recently slowed in its growth. It's probably because I live in WA and our sunlight is rapidly diminishing. It's pretty tall now, but the leaves are all growing pretty slowly. It almost looks like it's etiolated - it seems paler than before and the leaves are much harder than before. I'm wondering what to do -- should I cut the entire thing and let it grow again, or should I keep harvesting the small leaves that are being produced only near the tip? The places I've already harvested are not growing anymore (not sure if that's normal).

I also heard that Kale was alright to grow in winter, so I'm not sure if I'm supposed to pull the whole plant (does pulling the whole plant mean roots as well?)

Thanks much.

- Jeff


Kale is an annual vegetable meaning it will produce for one season and then flower.    

You have a few options.
1. If the kale is still tasty you can pick the newest leaves until they stop growing, then compost the plant in a month or so.
2. Just leave the plant and let it go to seed (bees, butterflies love the flowers)and you can save seeds for next spring.  Just be careful to collect them or the wind will send seeds throughout your garden and you will have kale coming up all over the place.  Naturally seeding is easy and great if you like a wild garden. If you have lots of plants just let a couple go to seed as they will produce lots of seeds.
3. Pull the plant out roots and all and compost it, if it is a large plant chop it up first so it will compost faster.  

With any option above I would recommend replanting now if you can find seedlings.  Kale will grow all year round in your climate.  The best way to grow kale is to do two plantings, one in early spring for eating through the summer and then another in late August for eating all winter long.  Garden centers may still have some kale seedlings, transplant them now.  They may not grow quickly due to low sunlight but you will have great kale come January or February.  Kale is actually tastiest/sweetest after a frost so fall planting of kale is often the best time to grow it.

I hope this helps, if you have any other questions please let me know.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I've never really picked seeds off a kale plant before ... what do they look like? I've seen little green things on the leaves before, but I wasn't sure if they were seeds.

Forgive my ignorance as well ... does kale self-fertilize or something? Is that why there are seeds produced? I only have three kale plants in the garden, but they're pretty spread apart from one another.



Sorry for taking so long to get back to you.  Kale has to flower, bright yellow flowers then as the flowers die back little pods are left behind, inside the pods are tiny black seeds. If you do not cut the plant for harvest the seeds the wind will disperse the seeds, which is what self fertilizing is.  

Let one or two of the plants go to seed (stop picking the top leaves so they will flower).  You will get lots of seeds from one plant.  Once you see the pods forming let them naturally dry out on the plant so they are firm to touch.  Once they are firm gentle pick off the whole pod and put them into a paper bag.  Shaking the bag will loosen the seeds from the pod.  Clean the seeds (separate them from pod and any shaft) then store them in a paper bag in a cool place or freezer.  Use them to plant your kale next year.

Hope this is clear, if not let me know.

Happy Gardening,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: That makes sense. When does the Kale usually flower?


- Jeff


The kale should start flowering now through next spring, depending on when you originally planted them and when you stopped harvesting from them.  If left to self pollinate they usually start producing new plants in early spring.

Happy gardening,

Catherine Abbott

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Catherine Abbott


I am confident I can answer any questions about planting, growing and harvesting vegetables and culinary herbs. I am very knowledgeable and experienced in garden site planning and design, propagating, soil preparation, transplanting, pest control, disease management, watering, fertilizing, and composting.


I have been growing vegetables organically since 1993 first in my small backyard, then moving to a 2 acre plot where I grew vegetables for sale at our local farmers market and through a CSA (community shared agriculture). I started a popular website in 2007 and have answered questions from all over the world through that site. I have 3 published Everything series books on gardening as well as several self published books for sale on my website.

I volunteer and assist teaching disabled adults how to grow their own vegetable gardens. I have set up raised bed gardens in the front yards of their group homes and the gardens help to feed the households. I am very involved in our local farming community and am the treasurer and a garden mentor for a local society called One Straw, which promotes organic and sustainable practices for growing local food. I am a board of director for a government committee that is involved in keeping our ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) safe.

I have 3 published Everything series books: The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book published in 2010. The Everything Root Cellaring Book published in 2011. The Everything Small Space Gardening Book set to be published Jan 2012. I have 3 self published garden design books: Vegetable Garden Plans for your Raised Beds. Vegetable Garden Plans for Square Foot Gardening. Vegetable Garden Plans for Row Gardening. I have a self published book on soil building: Why is Soil so Important? Tips on Amending and Fertilizing I also publish a yearly journal promoting garden planning and planting by the moon cycles. The current one is called "My 2012 Vegetable Garden Journal" I write articles that are published at EzineArticles.

I teach gardening classes on propagating, pest and disease management, and soil fertility at our local community center. My education came from my mother, mentors, and growing my own gardens.

Past/Present Clients
I write a monthly newsletter for my gardening website and send it to a email list of over 1200 gardeners. I write articles for EzineArticles. I have had numerous local clients through gardening classes and mentoring.

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