Saving Seeds From Kale

This spring, we let the overwintered Kale go to seed so that we could harvest the seed for our Fall garden.  We grew Siberian Curled Kale, Brassica napus, an old biennial Kale that grows well for us. By overwintering our Kale, the plants continued producing into the Spring and by mid-Spring began to set seed. One of our goals this year is to save as many garden seeds as needed, so the Kale was allowed to bolt.

As the Kale bolted in our garden, the stalks grew taller to 4 feet or more. The stalks also branched out, and the plants began to flower.

Flowering kale is lovely and it became a huge attractor for Springtime honey bees. Working in this garden, in and around the flowering kale, the bees were my garden companions.

Tight clustering Kale flower buds can be harvested — they are edible and taste like Broccoli. I harvested many Kale buds to add into our salads and stir fry meals and with a double row of Kale, 30-foot long, there was plenty of Kale buds to eat with a more than adequate supply of flowers on the stalks to set seed with.

After flowering, the Kale stalks began producing very small seed pods.  As the seed pods began to develop, they grew thicker and longer. The flower stalks also produced side branches with seed pods, too, forming more flowers, then more seed pods. Flowering kale was very attractive and beneficial for the honey bees so they continued to visit.

Most of the seed pods will grow to lengths between 2 and 3 inches.

Each Kale plant provided many seed pods. Before the seed pods dried, we uprooted the majority of the Kale plants so that we wouldn’t have to worry about seeds scattered all over this garden.

We kept a double row about 5-foot long and that Kale was allowed to continue to ripen its seeds. As the seeds developed more fully, the pods swelled as they ripened.

After the seeds were fully developed, the seed pods began to dry and the Kale plants began to die back.  At that point, I cut stalks, gathered them up and allowed them to fully dry on the back porch. I placed a sheet under the gathered bundle so that I could keep all of the debris (opened pods and Kale seeds) on top of the sheet. Then I loosely covered the Kale bundle with the sheet so there would be no issues with wind scattering seeds. Within a few weeks, the Kale pods were fully dry.

Using scissors, I snipped dried pods off of the slender stalks. Since the stalks and pods are fibrous, scissors made the task easier.

I then hand-harvested our Kale seeds from the pods. I used an old Ziploc plastic container to separate the dried Kale pods — this prevented the Kale seeds from being released all over the place.

Each seed pod has a thin separating membrane in the center of the pod, running the length of the pod. Kale seeds grow on either side of this thin membrane. If you open the pods carefully and move the dried membrane, the seeds will literally roll out of the pod and into the container.

To harvest Kale seed on a larger scale, the dried seed pods can be crumbled, allowing both seed and pod debris to fall into the container.

Small bits of chaff and debris are easily gathered after the Kale seeds have been harvested from the dried pods. Shaking the container lightly will bring the chaff and other debris to the top of the seeds where it can be hand-picked or winnowed.

These Kale seeds are now ready to be poured into a seed packet where they’ll stay until our August planting time. The rest of the harvested Kale seeds are stored in a glass jar for sprouting. Organic Kale sprouts are nutritious and can be used for edible toppings on salads and sandwiches.

41 thoughts on “Saving Seeds From Kale

  1. Now the fun part is to get out a seed catalog, look up the price for a packet of kale and smile at how rich you are.:) Mine are just forming some nice pods but it will be a while before they are dry enough to harvest.

    • Mike, isn’t it amazing that we can grow so much food for just a few dollars worth of seed? Or in our ways, for just a few hours of effort we have a continuing supply of seed and foods. That’s even better than than money in the bank — it’s the real insurance policy for our tomorrow.

      Just this morning on our break, we were already planning how to frame out a few beds for winter. After our blizzard collapsed the PVC tunnels, we are going to go sturdier — with wooden A-frames and plastic panels (little biddy greenhouses).

  2. Can you save swiss chard seed in the same way? is it related to kale? I have a chard plant that’s bolting and I wonder if I could save the seeds…

  3. Thanks! That was very helpful. I’ve saved seed from my basil, cilantro, green beans and lettuce before, but never tried chard (or tomatoes) yet.

  4. thanks so much for publishing this… my kale is flowering and I need know how to save the seeds before I move to a new place.

  5. Pingback: Spring Veggies « Wood Ridge Homestead in the Shenandoah Valley

  6. Is it possible to know when the kale seeds are fully developed? Like you, I don’t want the seeds to scatter all over and the pods look very full right now. The kale overwintered and started to flower a couple months ago. Can I harvest the seeds even though the plant hasn’t started to die back yet? Thanks so much for all the info!

    • Hi Erin. If you open one of the pods, you can see the seeds. When they’re round and they look like the tiny kale seeds we get in seed packs, it should be fully developed. If you have a microscope, you could mount several seeds and slice them to see if they’ve fully developed. Most people don’t have access to scientific equipment though, so they’ll simply allow the pods to dry as the plants mature. If you are afraid of drying pods bursting in the garden, just cut some of the stems that have pods and place them in a bag to “pop” elsewhere. Remember that a developed seed is not necessarily a dry seed ready for storage. I wait until the pods are dry before opening the pods.

      The flowering Kale is pretty isn’t it? Good luck with your seed saving!

  7. We planted our kale eleven months ago in our greenhouse. It is still sprouting new leaves at the top. We continually harvest leaves at the bottom of the stalks for our salads. We have been waiting patiently for some flowering to start so that we can harvest and save seeds for another season but nothing to date but today I noticed small new leaves coming our of the stalk where we have harvested leaves many months ago. Is it possible that these plants are on a two year cycle and flowering will only occur at the end of the second year?

  8. I have 2 – 15′ rows of kale that I’ve had for this 3rd summer. This is the first year we have had flowers and pods. Is it best to leave the kale alone, or can we continue to eat the leaves while it’s flowering and seeding? When I get the seeds out and have them completely dried, would you recommend planting them this fall or waiting until next spring?

  9. My kale bolted this year so I too have saved the seeds – though I missed the boat a bit and am sure some have scattered – where I live everything tends to be later than average so I am just getting seed from the dried pods now – but thousands of them, which is very pleasing as I shan’t have to buy any seed for a couple of years or more!

  10. Thank you for publishing this. I grow Winterbor and have eaten it all through this winter, about 20 plants. This is in zone 5a, south of Buffalo, NY. Yours is the only article I found on kale seed saving specifically. Thanks again, great job.

  11. Thank you so much for this article! I grow Red Russian in Wisconsin (zone 4b), and my overwintered plants are starting to flower. Thanks to you, I now know exactly what to do to save my seed.

  12. Excellent post!! Clear & informative all the way through! Images and text are just what was needed to show the stages and the finished product. Thank you for your thoroughness!

  13. I’m in the process of saving seed from an over-wintered Kale plant that I had been too lazy to pull from last year’s garden. To my great surprise, it made it through the Boston winter and went to flower, and is currently developing ~50 or more seed pods. I’ll follow your instructions to properly save the seeds!

  14. Thank you so much. I really needed the pictures as I am new to gardening. I thought I was going to miss the opportuninity but you showed me I still have time. With any luck, when the plants dry, I’ll have enough seed to give to family and friends. And yes, I enjoyed the flowers!

  15. Thank you so much for your detailed account! I am doing the same thing and have pod-ing varieties of both kale, lettuce, and mustard greens…it’s hard to wait to cut the stems but I’ll do it as long as I can, they are all all still a healthy green or black (for the black kale)…I’m moving in 2mo so hopefully they will be ready by then!

  16. Thanks for this post. I just finished the exact same thing (except I should have used a sheet under the dried pods – good idea!) The plant I harvested the seed from was a Redbor that finally went to seed in year 3. It (and its buddies) grew to almost 5 ft. in height the first year. This is in zone 5 in Wisconsin.

  17. what fantastic information on collecting kale seeds….extremely informative, thank you…..

  18. …Yesss Sir,finally found this info.Gudd ideas for home planters.Thank u most kindly! How do u get seeds for these: Lettuce; Cabbage; Broccolli; Coliflower; Onions…?

  19. Just the information I was looking for! I left some kale in over the winter and it is starting to flower. I just need to find out how long before I an harvest because the plants are right in the middle of where I want to put the tomatoes this year. Maybe I can transplant it to the landscape.

  20. Terrific post! this is one of the best descriptions of seed saving that I have read. Your photos are fabulous, as well. Many thanks for doing such a great job.

  21. Do the seeds need to turn black before cutting the plants down? I opened one of the pods and see the seeds but they are still green. I dont want to cut the plants down too early but need the space they are in to plant this years crops. The pods are a few inches and swollen but I’ve never harvested kale seeds and am not sure if its too early.

    • Charmed, If your Kale seeds are still green, the seeds have not ripened enough. It will only take a few plants to produce hundreds of Kale seeds so bear this in mind.

      Kale that is allowed to bolt does take quite a bit of room (just like many other veggies) so you can ‘tighten’ the tall stalks by gathering them with some torn cotton strips and tie the stalks into a bundle (you might want to support the bundled stalks with a garden stake). With the stalks bundled together, use the under-story area to start other veggies that won’t compete with the tall Kale stalks. When the Kale seeds have dried (and turned black), simply cut the stalks off at the base and leave the root system in the ground — this way you won’t disturb the new veggies planted there.

      It sounds as though your seed pods are not far from beginning the drying phase. Once they begin to darken and dry, you can cut the stalks.

  22. I will be harvesting my flowering cabbage seeds soon. When is the best time to plant for a flowering plant to use this fall. In North Mississippi – zone 7 I believe. Love the article – so glad I found.
    Susan

    • Susan, I have never grown ornamental cabbages before so I looked up a few recommendations from the seed companies. It appears that it takes about 3.5 months to get the ornamental cabbages to change color from green to the lovely reds and purples. I would plan accordingly and count backwards: if they are to be ornamental/colorful in September or October, start the seeds in July or August. I would assume they could be started in seed flats and then transplanted later. They sure are pretty plants….maybe I should grow some!!

  23. Hi I have a red russian and siberian and dinosaur. they were the best of my crop. I need to use the bed for tomatoes now. can I just keep the plants in the bed, or will continued drip irrigation affect them negatively?

    • Adam, good question!! I don’t have experience with drip irrigation so I don’t know for certain. But logically, if kale plants are going to seed and they receive rainfall, the plants aren’t affected because they’re still growing, living plants that are hosting their seed pods to maturity. However, rain does have a negative effect to the seed pods if they are in the drying phase. Seed pods need to be dry before they are collected and stored. So it would seem to me that the drying seed pods shouldn’t be affected with drip irrigation as the plants need to be alive until the seeds are ‘ripe’, at least.

  24. Before reading this post I plucked the seed pods off of the ornamental kale and was going to dry the whole pod, then remove the seeds. Will this work as it seems I have done it bacward? Thank you sincerely,

    Tracy

    • Tracy, I don’t know if those seed pods were mature. I suppose you could find out by allowing them to dry completely, then germinating a few (on a damp paper towel or something). Better to know if the seeds are viable before depending on them as your “seed crop”, I think.

  25. Thank you! I have a kale patch that is going to seed. I have more seed pods then I know what to do with. Now I can dry them and save the seeds… Thinking I should let other things go to seed for winter sprouts.

      • Thanks Lynn for replying but after biting into one, I decided they weren’t my “cup of tea”.

        • Well now we know, Nancy!!

          If you are a paper-maker, you could soak them and then add them into some home-made paper pulp. You could also shred them and add them onto paper as it is drying.

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