How to save kale seeds

Learning to save kale seed is a simple process, I promise – don’t let the idea of seed saving scare you. If you’re new to seed saving, kale is a good seed to learn how to save in seven easy steps!

If saving seeds is your thing, try doing it with friends! Be sure to read the Seed Swap section of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. Don’t have your own copy? Click below to see what it’s about! If you’d like to read a sample from the book, just email me at [email protected] Be sure to let me know it’s the Seed Swap section you’re interested in. With eight chapters of homesteading how-to’s and over 400 pages of homesteading information, there’s bound to be a lot that will interest you!

Why Plant Kale?

The much heralded kale isn’t just trendy, it’s tremendous!

Kale as Food

Kale is extremely nutritious and versatile in recipes. Check out one of my favorite kale recipes from The Elliot Homestead.

May I just tell you that kale chips are a pleasantly good snack. To do this:

  1. Washed a bowl full of chopped kale.
  2. Toss in enough cold pressed olive oil to coat the leaves.
  3. Add a dash of sea salt and a bit of cayenne and mix together.
  4. Lay the kale out evenly without touching on dehydrator racks .
  5. Dehydrate on the living foods setting (around 105F) to make an incredible raw kale chip.

Bon Appetit has a concise article on the various kind of kale to consider for different recipes.

Kale as a Plant

Kale is a biennial, meaning it needs two years to fully complete it’s life cycle. Most people grow it only as an annual, but to save the seed, simply leave it in your garden to over-winter.

Kale is very cold hardy and will grow with relative ease in the garden. Once November hit our region, I covered my kale plants with horticultural plastic. Winter winds shredded my two year old horticultural plastic and December found my lovely kale naked and exposed.

Amazingly, they did just fine with a thick mulch of straw on their feet for the rest of winter. They would get frozen but once the sun warmed them, their turgidity returned.

This spring , my kale was the first plant out of the starting gate, long before anything else was awake. We were able to harvest leaves all season, even while it sent up its seed stalk, flowered and set seed.

Pests rarely ultimately destroy kale. When things are in balance, you may not even notice bad bugs on your plants, except maybe some aphids. We had once year when Brassica moths ate every single leaf on my plants but, after they moved on with the season, the kale plants bounced right back with new growth. These plants are amazing!

What Kind of Kale Seed to Save?

All the kales create seed in the same way, so you can save seed easily from any of them.

If you have two or more varieties planted and they flower at the same time, be prepared for a little cross breeding. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you might become famous for your kale original seed! If you don’t want to cross varieties, plant one variety this year and another variety next year.

Last fall, I planted Vates and Red Russian kale, from which we harvested leaves throughout the fall and into the winter.

Seeds for Generations carries a Lacinato kale that can trace its origins to Tuscany – mangia! to see its seed profile on their site.

For some notoriety, try growing the walking stick kale featured in the Giant’s Garden section of Sharon Lovejoy’s children’s gardening book, Roots, Boots, Buckets and Shoots. This kale grows several feet tall and has a very straight stem which can, in reality, be turned into a walking stick.

In short, all kale is worthwhile and you should try them all.

Saving Kale Seed

Being a member of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, etc.), kale is very much obliged to set seed for you, especially once the spring weather warms to summer.

How Long from Seed to Seed?

As I said, kale is a biennial so it will require two years to set seed. This can be an imposition with some plants because they take up space in the garden for two years. However, with kale, you can keep harvesting the leaves the whole time.

Once the flower/seed stalks shoot up in the second year, the flavor of the leaves can change, FYI. I don’t like to eat it raw at that point, but it’s still yummy in soups. Regardless, it’s exciting to see the flowers bloom since I know that the seed is coming! This is the easiest seed save of my gardening year and I love it.

In fact, kale seed is so simple to save that it’s perfect for new seed savers and even kids. If you have a children’s garden, be sure to have them plant kale one spring and harvest seed in the summer or fall of the following year. If you don’t have a children’s garden, please read this.

The Seed Stalks

Each plant will send up stalks that can get quite tall. Our tallest this year measured somewhere between a three and a five-year-old child.

The stalks are a bit brittle and in high wind will detach from the mother plant. Sadly, this can happen before the seed has time to mature. If you’ve got stalks breaking off, tie up the stalks around a stake of bamboo for support.

The Seed Pods

Once the green seed pods (which look like small, skinny green beans) have fattened up and started to dry out, move fast to get the seed preserved. If you wait, the seed will drop anywhere it pleases to reseed itself in your yard. Sometimes your neighbor’s yard, if the birds or wind get involved.

The Seed Saving Process

  1. Once the seed pods are ripe and beginning to dry out, cut the stalks at the bottom of the plant.
  2. Then, invert them into a large paper bag and wait for them to dry the rest of the way.
  3. Hang the paper bags (paper is best because it breathes) some place where they won’t get too hot and won’t be exposed to dust or wind.
  4. If you’re in a place prone to summer humidity, just do a few stalks per bag so that you don’t end up with mold.
  5. Once you feel like the pods have finished drying, flail (or bang) the stalks against the side of the bag to dislodge the seeds.
  6. Toss the dried stalks into your compost or see if your goats will eat them. (Be prudent with raw Brassicas fed to your ruminants as too much can cause bloat – the dried stalks should be fine.)
  7. Start winnowing out the chaff by dumping the contents of your bag either through a screen or onto a sheet.

Kale seeds are small, dark and round. They are usually easy to distinguish in the midst of all the dried out seed casings and aphid corpses that will also be in residence at the bottom of the brown paper bag.

More on Winnowing your Kale Seed

The word “winnow” means to clean away all the chaff (seed casings and gunk) from your seed.

To filter the seeds from the chaff you can use window screening, a mesh strainer, a colander or a very loose weave cheese cloth. Really anything that will allow the small seed to fall through, but trap the larger particles of “stuff” will work just fine.

You can also just dump them onto a white sheet and call seed cleaning a Family Night activity!

To see the process of this (although it’s with leek seeds), .

A Special Note on Aphids

Aphids can be a nuisance on Brassicas but they don’t usually harm the seed. They can easily be controlled with a strong jet of water from your hose. With soft-bodied, plant-killing insects, a few hours away from their food source and they die.

Even if you harvest your seed stocks with a few aphids, they wont live long enough to do any damage to the seed, even if they could.

Learn more garden tricks and keep great notes on your garden each year with The Gardening Journal – just click below to learn more.

How to Store Kale Seed

How much kale seed do you get? That entirely depends on how many seed stocks your plant sends up and how much seed you take time to save. We’ve saved hundreds of seed from one plant.

Needless to say, you will probably have enough for most backyard gardening purposes.

You will have copious amounts of seed so make sure you have paper envelopes and/or glass jars handy to store and label the seed. I like paper envelopes for ease of storage, but prefer jelly jars with lids for ease of sorting, identifying and using. I use both since I can’t commit fully to either method.

Ideally, you would be taking generous seed samples from multiple of the best plants you have in order to preserve beautiful biodiversity. If you’re like me, you’ll just thank your lucky stars that you remembered to save out even one or two plants for seeds as you ravenously consumed every kale leaf in sight the season before.

Random Kale Seed Notes

Seed saving is something I’m still learning to do even after several years of practice. It’s also one more thing to factor into the planning of the garden each year. Much like a plant, sometimes I thrive and sometimes my brain wilts.

  1. Like I said, kale will cross pollinate with other brassicas and, therefore, with itself. My Vates flowered later than my Red Russian so I’m hoping I didn’t cross too badly, if at all.
  2. As far as the varieties go, of the two, I liked the Vates the best. Vates has great flavor, tidy leaves, not too much curling/ruffling, is hardy and pretty.
  3. The Red Russian was also very hardy and had lovely red undertones. However, it wasn’t quite as good in salads because it’s a little on the tough side when raw. I’m saving the seed, though, because in stir fries and soups it was yummy. The Scotch is a great one, too, and so is the Dinosaur kale. Basically, I haven’t met a kale I didn’t like.

What Seed Are You Saving?

So what seed are you saving this year? If the thought of doing any seed saving is new to you, don’t worry, that’s why God invented next year.

If you’re entirely new to gardening or still getting your feet wet, I highly recommend the two different levels of gardening in our book The Do It Yourself Homestead. With 400 pages of homesteading information, including gardening (of course), all presented in four different levels of experience, you’re bound to find something helpful to you! But don’t just take my word for it – here’s what fellow garden nerd and author Chris MacLaughlin has to say:

The cover photo of the kale plant is gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user; the cover photo of the kale flower is gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user. The alternate pin image is attributed to Wikimedia Commons user.

How to harvest kale seeds

I’ve been learning to save a lot of different kinds of seeds over the last few years, and the most difficult part seems to be figuring out the best processing technique to get seeds out of their fruits or hulls. With the first crucifer I processed (tokyo bekana), I gathered the whole top of the plant and pounded it with a big wooden pestle to break the seed cases apart. My new method with kale seems to be even more streamlined.

Seed to Seed warned me that kale fruits ripen a few at a time over the course of a week or two. If you rip up the whole plant, you’ll either lose some seeds due to premature shattering (opening) of the early pods, or you’ll harvest seeds that won’t sprout since they’re not fully mature. So I set off to break the ripest-looking kale pods into a container, figuring I’d come back in a week to harvest the rest.

As I worked, I realized that it was even easier to simply thresh the ripe pods directly into my container than to break off clusters of pods. Running a fruiting head through my hand resulted in lots of seeds and some pod bits making their way into my box, which meant the threshing and winnowing stage was as simple as shaking the box so the seeds settled to the bottom, scooping out most of the pod bits, and then blowing the rest away.

This week was my second round of harvesting, and a few minutes’ work netted half a pound of kale seeds! Kale seeds are good for three to five years, so I shouldn’t have to save seeds again for quite a while. Now I just have to wait and see if the information I was given on kale hybridization is correct (meaning that I should end up with two unsullied varieties, the same as I grew last year) or if my Red Russian and Improved Dwarf Siberian interbred (meaning that these seeds will turn into the kale equivalent of an alley cat).

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Saving Kale Seeds

Most gardeners are lucky if their kale plants last through the summer. We’ve been blessed with a Lacinato kale that has been growing for over a year and a half. It’s a magic plant; it survived cut worms, it resisted powdery mildew, and it never, ever got aphids. We’re definitely saving seeds from this plant.

Now over 10 feet tall, and listing to one side, the time has come to pull the plant (before it decapitates someone when it falls). But first to save the seeds:

Kale plant last year before going to seed

About 3 months ago, we found a cluster of seed pods at the top that hadn’t been eaten by birds (seed pods form after the yellow flowers fall off). We covered that section with a paper bag and stapled it closed over the branches. Then we waited…

After checking a few times to see if the seed pods were plump with seed, we had to wait again for them to dry out. Finally, about two weeks ago, the seed pods were dry. Time to harvest.

Lacinato kale seed pods, dry and ready to process

The next part is easy. Simply twist the pods until they crack open. Inside you will find a membrane running down the middle of the pod with tiny seeds on either side. We opened the pods over a paper towel to prevent them from rolling off the counter.

Kale seeds ready for storage

The final step is to label and store them for next year. We keep a stash of #1 coin envelopes on hand for this express purpose. The seeds go in, the envelope gets labeled and goes in the seed storage jar in the fridge (complete with desiccant packets).

We’ve dubbed it the “Giant Survivor” variety.

If you are new to seed saving, it’s a good idea to write down the planting depth and spacing information, as well as what time of year to plant (spring or fall). That way the information is all in one place.

So this fall, we will plant these seeds and see what happens. To be continued…

Seed Saving: How to Save Kale Seeds

Let’s talk about how to save kale seeds. It’s always exciting to know that there is always MORE I can learn about for gardening. This year, I’m learning about how to save seeds.

One of the worst parts of the return of summer heat is when your beloved plants start showing signs of heat stress, like beginning to bolt. Once a plant starts to bolt, the leaves and/or fruit gets tougher and less tasty.

In the past, I would silently mourn the changing of seasons and pull up my bolting plants to make-way for heat-loving plants. Don’t worry, there was no waste: I either fed them to my rabbits or chopped them up into my compost pile.

However, I’ve been wanting to learn about seed saving for YEARS now, and, after seeing some of my carrots, kale, and mustard greens go to seed at the same time, I figured this year was the perfect time to start learning how to save seeds.

I mean, if I can save money on future seed purchases, maybe I can put that saved money toward expanding my garden again. Sounds good, right, hubby? 🙂

By the way, if you struggle with garden burnout in the summer, read my post about Finding Joy in the Garden in Summer.

How to Save Kale Seeds

1. What You Need To Know Before Saving Kale Seeds

Before we talk more about how to save kale seeds, there is a few details about saving seeds and also about kale that we should talk about. Honestly, seed saving has always overwhelmed me because it can get a bit….”science-focused” and science isn’t really that interesting to me (Note: I assume that my husband’s science-loving relatives just sighed sadly).

So I’m going to make this seed saving stuff as easy-to-understand as possible. If you want to delve into the complexities of seed saving, I suggest reading one (or both) of these books:

  • Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth
  • The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, Trees & Shrubs by Robert E. Gough & Cheryl Moore-Gough

So, back to some uber-simple seed saving tips:

1) Start with Kale plants that are either listed as “open-pollinated” or “heirloom”.

You want to avoid hybrid plant varieties. By the way, just because a plant is organic does not mean that can’t also be a hybrid.

Okay, you might be thinking “But Cris, I threw my kale seed packet away a LOOONG time ago. How do I know if it was a hybrid or not?”

If you order your seeds online, you should be able to find your receipt order again (even if you have to email the company). These are my favorite seed companies by the way.

Otherwise, you can try looking up the variety you are growing online via beloved google, and see if it is a hybrid or not.

If you’re not sure if it is or is not a hybrid, why not try saving the kale seeds anyway? A hybrid’s seeds don’t usually work, so worst case scenario, your experiment fails and you learn a valuable lesson about labeling everything (coming from the gal who is still learning that lesson on a daily basis).

Best case scenario: you “discover” a delicious new variety. Or something. Ugh, it gets too science-based at this point. Sorry guys.

2) Avoid Cross Pollination Issues by Isolating Your Kale Plant from Other Kale Varieties.

If you are growing more than one variety of heirloom/open-pollination kale plant, then you need to make sure that your two kale crops are planted away from each other (not in the same garden row/bed).

If you have two heirloom varietiess next to each other, no worries, all is not lost, you are just going to create a mixed/hybrid variety from the seeds.

However, if you are looking to do this kale seed saving thing longterm, you will need to plant your (future) heirloom varieties away from each other in your next gardening season. In the meantime, you can experiement with the mixing of your kale varieties.

2. Caring for and Observing Your Kale Plant

Kale is a biennial plant, which means that if you want to save seeds from your kale plant, you will keep your kale plants in the garden over the winter and harvest the seeds from your kale plants the following summer.

I planted my kale last spring, harvested leaves throughout the summer and fall, ignored the plant during the winter, and this spring, it flowered. That’s when it’s getting ready to give me my future seeds.

Once your kale plants flower, you won’t find the leaves very tasty anymore. It is now putting energy into the flowers, and, by the way, don’t harvest or cut off the flowers, because those flowers eventually turn into seed pods.

Many beneficial insects like the yellow flowers of kale. I found the first bees and butterflies of the season all over kale flowers, probably because other flowers weren’t available to them yet. So make sure you enjoy the flower stage! Sit by your kale plants and admire the beauty.

You might need to stake the flower stalks. The flower stalk can get very tall and fall over, and if they get damaged and snap off at this stage, you won’t get any kale seeds.

Green Seed Pods on the Kale Plant: Not Ready to Harvest Yet!

3. When to Harvest the Kale Seed Pods

After the flower stage, the plant will develop long, skinny green pods on the plant.

You only need one or two kale plants per variety for seed saving. Each plant produces LOTS of seeds!

Leave the green pods on the plant, but keep an eye on them. You cut the branches with seed pods off when the seed pods turn brown and they are dry. Use your gardening intuition about the perfect time to harvest the seed pods.

In the photo below, you will see that only half of my pods turned brown. I harvested them slightly early because some of the brown pods were splitting open and I was losing my seeds and also because a week of rain was about to start, and you need to harvest the seed pods when they are dry or you risk moldy seeds.

Unless you want the kale to self-seed where it is in your garden, you need to watch carefully for brown seed pods splitting open.

4. How to Dry Your Kale Seed Pods

Once your kale seed pods are ready to be harvested, here’s what you do:

  1. Cut the stalks at the bottom of the plant. Wait at least 2 days after it rains to harvest your seed pods or you risk mold.
  2. Gently place the kale stalks in a brown paper bag. Do this carefully or you risk splitting open seed pods and having kale seeds spill all over your kitchen counter. Ask me how I know that. 😉
  3. Label your brown paper bag. If you’re seed saving with different plants or even different varieties of kale plants, you need to LABEL them, or you might forget which bag is holding which seeds.
  4. Hang the brown bag somewhere out of the way, perferably in a dark, room temperature place.

5. How to Winnow Your Kale Seeds

After a few weeks, check to see if your pods are completely dry in the brown bag. Once they are all ready, it’s winnowing time!

There are a few ways to winnow your kale seeds:

  • Make sure your brown bag is closed and shake the bag to get the seeds out of the pods.
  • Place the seed pods on a screen, sheet, colander, or cheesecloth, and shake it (over a container) so that the seeds fall out and the seed pods are left behind.
  • Sit down on a porch with a tall glass of lemonade, and hey, maybe get your loved one to play guitar, while you pluck the seeds out of the seed pods by hand. (This is what I like to do. I’m all about slowing down these days instead of rushing about!).

6. How to Store Your Kale Seeds

Now that you learned how to save kale seeds, make sure you put them in a closable bag or sealed envelope and LABEL IT!!!!!

I always store my seeds in the back of my refrigerater. Cold, dark storage places can keep your seeds viable for many years. Here’s how you can check the viability of old seeds.

Do you save seeds? Have you saved kale seeds before? Tell me about your seed saving adventures in the comments below!

I hope you learned a lot of great tips about how save kale seeds. I’ll be posting more seed saving posts in the future, but in the meantime, check out my Ultimate Gardening Guide for lots of awesome gardening tips!

Its hard to believe that my Red Russian Kale was such a small plant in early spring. I love growing Kale as its one vegetable all the children love to eat when they come to the school garden. This kale had overwintered from last year.

Kale is a biennial vegetable which means it sends out lots of leafy growth in the first year which can be harvested by picking the lower leaves.

In the second season it will start to bolt and set flowers. I love the flowers and thin tops of the kale. They taste like broccoli and can be stir fried or eaten raw. We never get hungry working nearby. There is always something to nibble on.

The flowers on the kale plant attract bees to the garden in early spring. I could hear the constant humming while working close by.

Now the kale plant has gone to seed. If you look closely on the plant you will see long seed pods that look like a thin bean all over the branches of the plant. Inside each pod are many seeds. I will be placing a few branches in a large paper bag to dry and when they are ripened I will store them in envelopes until needed. This Red Russian Kale is open pollinated which means the seeds will grow exactly the same plant as this years crop. It is important when saving seed that you do not save seed from hybrids as they will not come true from seed.

Did I say a few branches? By the time I got done the leaf bag I brought was full to the top! Okay, so I don’t really need that many seeds but for a seedaholic like me I couldn’t bear to part with them. Now begins the task of placing them in very large envelopes to dry. So look for my Kale seeds at our next Seedy Saturday. I am sure I will have lots to give away.

Kale is a cool-weather crop that requires two months of cool weather to reach harvest.

Sow seeds indoors or outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring or as soon as the soil can be worked.

Kale is commonly started indoors and transplanted into the garden when seedlings are 4 to 6 weeks old.

Kale is a hardy biennial plant grown as an annual. The leaves of kale are similar to cabbage. Scotch kale has crumpled and curly gray-green leaves. Siberian or blue kale is less curly and a bluer shade of green.

Kale Yield. Plant 4 to 5 plants per household member.

Where to Grow Kale

Kale prefers rich, well-drained soil with a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.8. Plant kale in full sun; plant kale in partial shade in warm regions. For optimal flavor, grow kale in cool weather.

Start kale indoors in late winter for planting out in early spring.

Kale Planting Time

Kale is a cool-weather crop that can tolerate temperatures as low as 20°F. Kale does not tolerate heat. Direct seed or transplant kale so that it comes to harvest before day time temperatures exceed 80°F. In cool-summer regions, plant kale in early spring for summer to early fall harvest. In warm- and hot-summer regions, plant kale in late summer for harvest in late fall or winter. In mild-winter regions, kale can be sown in fall for winter harvest.

Planting and Spacing Kale

Sow kale seed ½ inch deep spaced 3 inches apart; thin plants to 12 inches apart when they are 4 to 5 inches tall. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Set transplants with crooked stems up to the first leaves.

More tips: Kale Seed Starting Tips.

Curly kale

Caring for Kale

Water and Feeding. Keep kale well watered for sustained growth and to keep leaves from getting too tough. Add aged-compost to planting beds in advance of planting. Side dress kale with aged compost every 6 weeks.

Companion plants. Beets, celery, herbs, onions, and potatoes. Not pole beans, strawberries, tomatoes.

Kale Care. Mound straw around kale once it is 6 inches high to prevent plants from touching the soil; soil easily sticks to kale’s often crinkled leaves.

Container Growing Kale. Kale will grow in a 6-inch container. Plant kale on 8-inch centers in large containers. Move kale grown in containers into the cool shade when the weather warms to extend the season.

Kale Pests and Diseases

Pests. Kale can be attacked by cutworms, cabbage loopers, and imported cabbage worms. Control these pests by handpicking or spry with Bacillus thuringiensis.

Diseases. Kale has no serious disease problems.

Kale Harvest

Kale will be ready for harvest 55 days from transplanting, 70 to 80 days from seed. Cut individual leaves for use when the plant is 8 to 10 inches high; cut the outside leaves first. If you harvest the entire plant, cut 2 inches above the soil and the plant will sprout new leaves in 1 to 2 weeks. Harvest kale before it gets old and tough.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Kale.

Storing and Preserving Kale. Leave kale in the garden until you are ready to use it. Its flavor will be sweetened by frost. Kale will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks in a plastic bag. Kale can also be frozen, canned, or dried.

Kale Varieties to Grow

Common name. Kale, borecole

Botanical name. Brassica oleracea acephala

Origin. Hybrid

More tips: Kale Growing Quick Tips.


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