In the last few decades, nutrient rich kale has become widely popular as a healthy staple for meals and snacks. And home gardeners have readily embraced it in the veggie patch as well.
This easy-to-grow leafy green thrives in cool temperatures, and a generous selection of cultivars make it a beautiful and delicious addition to the garden.
A member of the Brassica genus, these plants are biennials. They produce leafy growth in the first year, then overwinter in the garden. In their second growing season, they resume growth, flower, then set seed.
With plenty of open pollinated varieties to choose from, reproducing plants true to their parents is easy. And you can begin your own organic, heirloom collection – a wonderful legacy your family will cherish for generations! Let’s look at the easy steps how to harvest kale seed and store them.
How to Harvest Kale Seeds
Novice growers may be quite surprised by the spiral-shaped kale plants that appear in the garden. However, this situation presents an excellent opportunity to collect kale seeds. Storing kale seeds is really, really easy.
First, gardeners need to pay close attention to when kale is ripe. For optimal seed production, growers should let the plants sit until the seed pods and stems begin to dry out and turn brown. This will help ensure that the seeds are ripe when harvested. After the seed pods have turned brown, there are several options. Growers can cut off the main stem of the plant to harvest all the pods at once, or they can remove individual pods from the plant. It is important to remove the pods immediately. If you wait too long, the pods may open and the seeds may fall to the ground.
After harvesting the pods, keep them in a dry place for a few days to a few weeks. This will ensure that the moisture has been removed and make it easier to collect the kale seeds from the pods. When the pods are completely dry, they can be placed in a brown paper bag. Seal the bag and shake vigorously. This should loosen any mature seeds from the pods. After the seeds are collected and removed from the planting material, store the seeds in a cool, dry place until ready to plant in the garden.
Second Year Growth
While kale is usually grown annually, it takes two years to complete its life cycle.
To collect seeds, you need to overwinter the plants. This is great news if you’re in USDA hardiness zones 7-10, as you can also harvest delicious leaves all winter long!
In late fall, place a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plant. Compost, grass clippings, leaf mold, sawdust, and straw are all good materials.
In spring, in cold weather, this Brassica is one of the first to wake up and quickly grow fresh leaves early in the season. By summer, the plants will complete their life cycle and will sprout before sending out tall flower stalks. Pods form shortly thereafter.
The leaves can be harvested while the plant is alive, but once it blooms, the flavor will suffer. They’re still good for stir-fries and soups, but will be tougher and bitter if eaten raw.
Gather Flower Stalks
With warmer temperatures, each plant will develop tall flower stems 3 to 5 feet tall with large end clusters of small yellow flowers.
Once the sprouts are ready, long, thin pods form on the stems.
When they change from green to beige, you need to act quickly to get ripe fruit. Waiting too long can cause dry pods to pop and spread out their cache.
Pedicels can be a little brittle, especially in strong winds. If the stems start to tip over as they mature, gather a handful and fasten them to bamboo stakes to support and preserve your harvest.
When the pods are ripe and starting to dry, cut off the stems near the bottom.
Flip the headed stems over and place in a large paper bag. Secure the opening with garden twine, then hang the bag in a cool, dry place protected from wind.
In areas with high humidity, place only a few stems in each bag to avoid mold.
Once the pods are completely dry within 10 to 21 days, shake and tap the stems into the bag to loosen the seeds.
Winnow Out The Chaff
All varieties produce small, round seeds that are black, gray, or light brown.
If you collect your own seeds, you must separate the dried husk and pedicel (or chaff) parts from the seeds through a process called sieving.
This can be done with a screen with a hole big enough that it can fall off if you shake it lightly. Throw away the chaff left on the screen when you’re done.
Alternatively, on a breezy day, use a mesh screen or strainer basket to gently toss the seeds into the air and let the wind carry away the chaff. They must be thrown high enough so that the wind can catch and disperse the chaff, but not so high that they will get lost!
A third option is to throw the seeds and chaff onto a large plate, then manually separate the two, pushing the chaff aside and keeping the seeds.
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Why Store Kale Seeds?
So you’ve successfully grown healthy, beautiful kale plants and want to repeat them year after year. How do you preserve DNA and replicate your success? They preserve the seeds of your precious plants.
If your kale variety is open-pollinated, also known as an heirloom variety (in other words, not a hybrid), you can collect the seeds and use them to grow new plants that look like their parents. The benefit of collecting seeds from open-pollinated varieties is that the plants will slowly adapt to your specific growing conditions and climate, improving year by year. So when you save seed, you not only save money, but you also get stronger, healthier plants. So it’s worth learning how to preserve kale seeds.
A single plant can produce hundreds of seeds, and proper storage conditions are required to keep them viable.
Store them in paper envelopes or in ceramic or glass jars, then label them with the botanical name and date.
Once packaged, they need a cool, dark place to keep their moisture levels stable.
Temperatures around 50°F and 40% humidity are ideal – making the crisper drawer in the refrigerator an ideal place for storage.
Other good locations include unheated garages, flower sheds and cellars. If your unheated area is near freezing, place the seed container in a small insulated beverage cooler before storing.
If stored properly, they can keep for up to four years.
Save a Seeds
Storing your own open-pollinated seeds is smart and economical.
It ensures that plants grown from seed are loyal to their parents and gives you complete control over their growing environment.
You no longer have to buy seedlings, you can create your own collection of heirloom plants – perfect for the self-catering or organic gardener.
Plus, you won’t have to wait for your local garden store or direct-order store to stock up for spring before you start growing your plants again!
Remember to overwinter the kale to collect the seeds. Be sure to collect enough. Seeds are great gifts that other gardeners will love and can be used as a medium of exchange for local seed exchanges.
Which varieties do you keep? Let Answer The Question know in the comments below.