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All Things Garden,  Beginner Basics

Cut and Come Again: How to Harvest Kale & Leafy Greens

One of the easiest ways to waste food, time, and energy in the garden is by not taking full advantage of your plants potential! For example, why harvest an entire head of lettuce, bok choy, or kale at once, when instead you could keep the plant around to feed you for several more weeks – or maybe even months to come? Sure, there are certainly times when removing an entire plant is appropriate, which we’ll discuss more to follow. However, we prefer to harvest our greens a little differently, using the “Cut and Come Again” method!


Let me show you how we harvest our leafy greens using the cut and come again method. This method of perpetual harvesting promotes new growth, and vastly extends the time the plant gets to live in our garden – and feed us! I will also provide some tips on how to prolong your leafy green season and slow down bolting, and share our favorite varieties of greens to grow! A video demonstration of the cut and come again harvest method is included too.


Leafy greens are hands-down our favorite thing to grow. Kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, bok choy, lettuce, arugula, and more! As plants, they’re very low-maintenance and easy to grow compared to many others. As food, they are SO damn good for you, overflowing with nutrients and antioxidants. One of the best parts is that there are seemingly endless options of different types and varieties of greens to try – which is not only fun, but also makes it easy to find ones that work well in your climate. I hope you’ll feel as stoked about growing greens as I am by the time you finish this article!


A man standing in the corner of a backyard patio that is lined with wooden raised garden beds. He is wearing blue denim shorts and a button up t shirt, he has holding a kale tree that is over 9 feet tall as a wizard would a staff. He is looking up at the top of the tree which still has numerous kale leaves still attached to it, but the majority of the kale stem is bare with notches where possibly hundreds of leaves have been harvested using cut and come again. There is an vine covered arch to the left of the image and there are chickens assembled below the arch on the outside of the patio, they are being kept out by a above waist high gate that is under the arch as well.
Aaron and the “Kale Tree”. Way sexier than Jack and the Beanstalk. This infamous lacinato kale plant lived and fed us for over 9 months, and grew over 9 feet tall in the process! Every notch along the stem represents a leaf that was harvesting using cut and come again. We finally cut it out of the bed when it became a bit infested with aphids and mildew, and started to show signs of bolting ~ not to mention became very difficult to reach and harvest from!


The Benefits of Cut and Come Again Harvesting


So, why should I harvest my leafy greens this way, you ask?

The better question is: Why not?  There are very few scenarios where harvesting an entire head of lettuce, bok choy, or other leafy green is preferable to practicing cut-and-come-again, in my humble opinion at least. A farmer may need to cut away the entire plant to sell them at market. Maybe a particular variety of green isn’t suitable for cut-and-come-again, such as tighter heads of lettuce. Or, perhaps it is the end of the growing season, the plants are starting to look ragged and about to bolt, or you need to clear the space. Sure, then harvest the entire thing! Otherwise… 


I highly suggest cut and come again harvesting, for following five reasons:


  1. You get the most bang for your buck by harvesting all season long! By using the cut and come again method, we have had kale and swiss chard plants live for over a year – feeding us fresh tasty leaves every single week! We’ve even had romaine lettuce survive for over 6 months with perpetual harvesting before getting too bitter or tough to enjoy. Depending on your climate, not everyone will be able to grow leafy greens for quite as long as we do – but we’ll talk about a few ways to extend your greens season below!

  2. Enjoy smaller amounts of the greens on an as-needed basis. A few leaves of kale, a handful of arugula… By harvesting a little at a time, it is far less fuss than storing and refrigerating entire heads or many plants at once.

  3. Similarly, picking leaves as you need them ensures they’re more fresh! An entire head of collard greens may go limp or spoil before you eat it all. 

  4. By routinely cutting away a few leaves from each plant, it encourages rapid new growth! Continually cycling through the leaves means you’re always promoting fresh tender vegetation. This is especially evident when it comes to young seedlings. Wait until small leafy green seedlings have at least 5-7 leaves, then gently pull off the 2-3 oldest, lowest leaves. That way, they can redirect their energy elsewhere. You’ll be astonished at how quickly they take off afterwards!

  5. Finally, using the cut and come again method means less work and maintenance in the garden. I don’t know about you, but I would rather let plants live as long as possible in one spot (as long as they’re still productive and healthy!) than constantly starting more seed or buying more seedlings, planting them, and starting the whole cycle over again.


A two way image collage, the first iage shows a u shaped garden bed that butts up against the side of a house. The garden beds are overflowing with various greens such as kale, bok choy, mustard greens and kohlrabi. In the background behind the garden beds there are chickens picking in the grass and various trees and shrubs lining the fence line. There is a tall cactus protruding out from behind one of the beds.
The second image shows the same garden bed but there are different plants planted in the beds, they are more sparse with taller kale trees closest to the house with smaller squash and calendula plants in front of them. The nearest section of bed has the greens from carrots showing from the bottom of the image,
The same space, 6 months later (November to May). The bok choy and turnip greens fed us for many months, but the dino kale decided to stick around even longer – to join the summer crops like squash and tomatoes!


How to Harvest Greens with Cut and Come Again


To harvest using the cut and come again method, it is really just as easy as cutting, and coming again later! Well, maybe not quite that simple, but dang close.


Here are some pointers:


  • Harvest a few of the outermost, oldest, lowest leaves from the plant only. 

  • You can gently pull or tear the leaves away, but be very careful not to tug on the entire plant, break the main stem, or uproot it all! Support the main plant with one hand while you harvest with the other. Or, be safe and use a knife or trimming shears to cut the leaves away.

  • Cut (or gently tear) the leaf you’re removing all the way down to the base of the plant, where it is attached to the main stem. If you leave a little nub behind, it may still try to draw energy from the plant. Or, run the risk of harboring disease.

  • Harvest as many leaves as you need at the time, but always leave at least a handful of leaves behind! The plant needs those to photosynthesize and continue to grow! As aI rule of thumb, I never harvest more than half of the leaves available. 

  • We typically harvest from our leafy greens once per week, during our big weekend harvests. However, you could harvest more or less frequently as needed, as long as you’re leaving behind enough to regrow. 

  • Don’t cut from the center top portion of the plant. That is where all the new growth is coming from, called the terminal bud. If it is removed, the plant will stop producing new leaves. Or, it may send off side shoots of smaller, less desirable leaves. 


Check out our YouTube channel for more videos by clicking here!



What Types of Greens Can I “Cut and Come Again” Harvest?


You can apply this harvesting technique to more than you probably ever imagined! As you’ve probably already gleaned, the cut and come again method can be (and should be!) used for classic leafy greens like kale. We continually harvest this way from our swiss chard, mustard greens, bok choy, collard greens, lettuce, arugula, and the many types of Asian greens we love to grow as well. 

Additionally, cut and come again can be used for less traditional “leafy greens” – such as beet greens, turnip greens, daikon radish greens, and even cauliflower and broccoli leaves! Yes, those are ALL edible. There are many types of vegetables that aren’t primarily grown for their greens, but that doesn’t mean their greens aren’t a worthy crop too! Beet greens are especially delicious. To harvest them, follow the exact same instructions as above. Cut away just a few leaves at a time from where they meet the soil or the beet itself, and always leave more than half behind! The greens will regenerate, and the beet will continue to happily grow. 

The one caveat here is that certain varieties of the greens mentioned above will be more or less suited for cut-and-come again. Bok choy is the perfect example. Baby bok choy forms small, tight heads, intended to be harvested early and young. It would be fairly difficult to pull off the outermost leaves to harvest, and not very worthwhile. On the other hand, other types of bok choy grow large thick stalks and leaves in a much looser, open head – prime for the picking! Our favorite bok choy is Joi Choi, for that very reason. In general, we always give preference to varieties of greens that respond well to cut-and-come again. 


An image taken at the soil level of a garden bed, the view shows the understory of a plot of joi Choi bok choy. The sun is shining above the plants illuminating the top leafy greens which stand out in contrast to their shaded white stalks.
See how large and open these heads of Joi Choi bok choy are? They’re PERFECT for cut and come again harvesting.


Our Favorite Leafy Green Varieties


Every year, we love to experiment and grow new types of leafy greens in the garden. Hello, my name is Deanna, and I am a seed-shopping addict. Yet there are those few tried-and-true, never-let-ya-down, stellar varieties that we grow year after year.

For us, the ones that make that list include: Japanese Giant Red Mustards, Lacinato Kale (regular green or “Dazzling Blue”), Joi Choi bok choy, Peppermint Swiss Chard, and Yukina Savoy.

If you need some ideas of where to source seeds, check out this article: “12 Places to Buy Organic, Heirloom, & Non-GMO Garden Seeds”.


A four way image collage of various greens that can be harvested with the cut and come again method. The first image show two Dazzling Blue kale plants in a raised garden bed patio setting. There is a small, sunflower plant directly behind the kale and a large mass of vineing green behind that. The second image was taken over the top and downwards over a garden bed of giant red Asian mustard greens. They range in color from dark green to dark purple. The third image shows a hand holding six bok choy leaves with two baskets of harvested bok choy and green mustards below it. The fourth image shows two raised garden beds in an evening sunset. The beds are filled with dark leafy tatsoi greens and a lighter green Savoy type in the foreground. The back bed displays plants in rows from bok choy to red mustards and various other leafy greens. The backdrop is a hedge of perennial salvia that are basking in the evening sun.
Gorgeous Dazzling Blue lacinato kale, frilly purple Japanese Giant Red mustard greens, thick stalks of Joi Choi bok choy, and stunning bunches of Yukina Savoy mild mustard greens.


How to Extend the Life of Leafy Greens & Slow Bolting


Perpetual harvesting with the cut and come again method sounds great in theory, but will only work if your leafy greens actually stick around to be harvested from! Greens can be a bit finicky if they’re unhappy. If their growing conditions aren’t to their liking, they may try to bolt on you. 

When a plant “bolts”, it means it is starting to go to flower, and then form its seed. Their final hoo-rah. At that time, the plant is on its way out – and the greens can become more tough and bitter. We do sometimes continue to harvest off of bolting plants. Also, we like to leave some to flower for the bees to enjoy!


The image shows a peppermint swiss chard plant that has grown to close to 3 feet tall, the stalks are red but transition to white as it gets closer to the leafy green. The plant has many leaves shooting off of it and they get smaller the further up the plant they grow because it is going to flower, and missing leaves from the lower portion that were previously harvested with the cut and come again method. There are a few plants in the immediate vicinity from collard greens to calendula and zinnia. The background contains many perennials from lavendar to verbena, ranging from light greens to dark, purple to an occasional yello the sun is setting behind the chard plant and its Ray's are just peaking through a section of the plant, illuminating some of the leaves to a transparent green.
An 11-month old Peppermint Swiss Chard plant, finally bolting. The bottom stems became very tough, and the new growth very small.


So, here are a few tips to extend your leafy greens season:


1) Grow in the Right Season

Some leafy greens may be able to tolerate warmer weather, but in general, most leafy greens prefer a cooler growing season! For many of you, this means growing leafy greens in the spring or fall. If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate that doesn’t have crazy hot summers or freezing winters, you should be able to grow some greens all year long – like we do! Yet even if you do have extreme temperatures, there are ways to keep on growing through it. Continue reading below to see how.

If you aren’t sure when to start or grow leafy greens, refer to your handy Homestead and Chill garden planning toolkit. It has planting calendars for every growing zone! (It is sent via email. Gmail users, check your “promotions” inbox!)



An image of a planting calendar for Zone 10 growing region. It is a chart that shows what months different vegetables should be either started from seed, transplanted into the garden and the first and last frost dates.
Here is an example of the planting calendars that come in the Homestead and Chill Garden Planning Toolkit, along with a companion planting chart, plot plan, tips, and more!


2) Choose Hardy Varieties

For you gardeners growing leafy greens in the spring months, look for heat-tolerant and slow-bolting varieties. This is particularly true if your weather rapidly heats up from spring to summer. This will help your greens last as long as possible! Some plant descriptions will explicitly state this. Others we have discovered through time, trial, and error. We’ve found many lettuces and Asian greens to be only mildly bolt-tolerant, collard greens to be the most heat-tolerant of them all, and kale and swiss chard somewhere in between.

On the other hand, if you are planting a fall/winter session of leafy greens, and live in an area prone to cold snaps, choose cold-hardy varieties that can handle some frost. For example, Lacinato, Red Russian, and White Russian kale types can all withstand frost and even some snow. Did you know kale actually gets sweeter after a frost?

We grow most of our greens in the virtually frost-free winter months here. They’re planted out as seedlings in late September, and if we’re lucky, some will grow straight through until the following spring into summer! Overall, our climate is pretty temperate, but we do get occasional odd heat spikes over 80 degrees in the winter! Thus, we seek out slow-bolters that can hopefully handle that. 


An image of the corner of a fenced in property. There are two wooden raised garden beds with various greens planted in rows in them. They range from bok choy, to tatsoi, to mustard greens and kale - all perfect for cut and come again harvests. Another smaller bed to the left shows only a few green garlic sprouts starting to protrude  from the soil. Behind that there is a cactus in ceramic pot,  a wooden sitting bench, salvia and sage flowing over a wooden terrace as well as a stone terrace in the left corner that has three tiers. Each tier containing a small fruit tree and smaller perennials.  The fence has horizontal slotted fence boards and the sun is shing in from that side, casting slotted light throughout the corner terrace.
As you can see, the Pai Tsai Asian greens in the middle of the front bed are already starting to bolt and flower, while everyone else is happily growing and being routinely harvested from. Those were a new variety we took a chance on last year. While delicious, we probably won’t grow them again – or at least not in a spot that we hoped to have greens occupy for many months! They’d be worthy in a grow bag maybe, for a shorter duration.


3) Provide Protection

If you live in a place where it rapidly shifts from a nice mild spring to a blazing hot summer, consider planting your leafy greens in a location that gets partial shade. Protection from the hottest late afternoon sun is particularly helpful to slow bolting. I don’t suggest planting them in complete shade however! Greens, like most garden vegetables, are going to be most happy if they receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. The key is to get it juuuuust right. Get Goldilocks with it.

Don’t have a shady spot in your garden? Another way to provide shade is using shade cloth and row covers. While you do need to pick up a few extra materials to do this, the use of shade cloth may be preferable anyways – because you can control the shade! Meaning, you can drape the greens on extra hot days (or weeks), but allow them to be free to soak up the sun at other times. Shade cloth can be supported over plants with hoops or other structures. It can also be laid directly on top of plants, as long as it doesn’t smash them. 

Hoops or row covers can also be used with material that is designed to protect plants from frost (like this frost blanket), to help you extend the season into the winter time. Additionally, look into cold frames as a means to garden in the winter!


4) Use Good Irrigation Practices 

Heat isn’t the only thing that leads to bolting or unhappy leafy greens. Keep your greens well- irrigated to reduce stress. That doesn’t mean drown them though! The goal is to provide even, consistent, deep water on a routine basis. Allow the soil to dry out ever-so-slightly between watering so the roots get a chance to breathe.

Other ways to reduce stress and increase drought tolerance is to routinely water plants with compost tea and aloe vera solutions! We do both about once every month or two.  If you need more tips about garden irrigation, you may enjoy this article: “Garden Irrigation Solutions: DIY, Efficient, & Toxin-Free Watering Options”


5) Get Insurance

Time to call Geico! Just kidding. We love our AAA. But that is not the kind of insurance I am talking about. What I mean is: plant extra! If you have the space for it, plant many of each type of leafy green you’re hoping to have a long, perpetual harvest from. Why? Well, it will that give you more greens to harvest. Furthermore, it increases your odds of getting some really long-lasting plants! For example, we’ve had some kale plants in a plot decide to bolt on us within a few months. Meanwhile, others of the same variety in that same plot decided to happily grow without bolting for nearly a year! 


An image of a man reaching into a raised garden bed of greens to harvest on of the leaves. He is wearing denim jeans and a red and black checkered flannel. There is a garden bed in the foreground that has young red cabbage growing, their leaves reaching outwards like solar panels. There is a small shrub growing out of a half wine barrel next to him. There is a Magnolia tree directly behind him and an avocado tree beyond that and to the right of the image. There are various perennials also in the background and the base of the avocado tree has many small green seedlings shooting up around it for a cover crop.



So… We’ve talked about how to extend your greens growing season, and how to harvest them. What about after harvest?


Storing Greens After Harvest


You may not love it, and I hate to say it… but the best way to keep leafy greens fresh and crisp in the refrigerator is stored in a sealed plastic bag with a little splash of water inside. Or, maybe another sealed non-porous container like a giant tupperware.

We have tried to use mesh reusable produce bags to store greens, and it didn’t work nearly as well. If I kept the mesh bags and greens damp, the greens stayed fairly crisp for a day or two. They rapidly went limp thereafter. If you want to harvest and use little bits at a time, that could work okay for you! On the other hand, a sealed plastic bag will keep them completely spry and crispy for over a week. I fully realize this isn’t ideal! But we do reuse the same plastic produce bags or ziplock over and over and over. If you have other suggestions that are just as effective, please do share!

The key is to harvest your leafy greens when they’re firm in the garden. Meaning, harvest them in the morning, or perhaps in the evening. Avoid harvesting greens in the middle of the hot afternoon when they’re already limp! Particularly if you want them to hold up in storage. I collect harvested greens in a basket, and try to keep them in the shade while doing so. Then I get them inside and into the fridge as quickly as possible thereafter. When using a standard produce bag, I stuff them full, drizzle in a little water, and then clip them shut with clothes pins.

We generally harvest what we can consume fresh in a week, adding greens to sautéed veggies, soups, lentils, quinoa, frittata, or salads for every lunch and dinner. If we have more than we can use fresh, one of our favorite ways to preserve greens is to make a fermented sauerkraut with them! Bok choy and mustards are especially tasty as kraut. Alternately, we also love to make big batches of garden veggie soup to freeze for months to come! You can also use our besto pesto recipe to freeze, and replace the basil with kale and/or arugula. Greens are also excellent in smoothies or juiced, and can be used fresh or frozen there.


An image showing a wicker basket that is overflowing from a harvest of greens. Red mustards, bok choy, kale, chard, arugula, and tatsoi make up the bulk of the cut and come again harvest. Colors range from light green to dark, dark purple to magenta, and even purple blue. The photographers feet are showing standing next to the basket as the image was taken from overhead.
A ritual Sunday morning harvest, photographing in the shade as to not wilt the greens. Yes, there are 3 huge baskets under there – somewhere! This is a weeks supply of greens for us.


And that is how you prolong your leafy green season!


What do you think? Did you learn something new? If you use some of these pointers in your own garden, you’ll be munching on nutritious leafy greens for many months to come! It may take you a couple of seasons to figure out the best types, timing, and tricks apply to your garden, but you’ll get there! In the meantime, #eatyourgreens, and spread the love by sharing this post!



DeannaCat's signature, Keep on Growing

9 Comments

  • Donna

    I use the damp tea towel method as well for all my veggies. We stopped using plastic bags from the grocery store an were flailing about for awhile until I tried this method. We started rolling washed herbs it a slightly damp tea towel and they lasted two weeks in the refrigerator with no bag. If the towel dried up too much I would wrap them in a newly dampened towel. Then I got a real brainstorm, why not line the crisper drawer with a tea towel!!! This works amazing for all vegges except potatoes, onions, garlic etc. It keeps broccoli, lettuce, greens, green onions, celery, peppers etc., fresh for a long time. We wet the tea towel and ring it out really well you don’t want it soaking wet just damp. Every week we take it out and replace it with a new one. The towel runs across the bottom of the crisper and over the top of the veggies. No more plastic bags for us!!! 😁

  • Amy Beckel

    Love your website and photos so much. It’s both helpful and beautiful. Your gardens are inspiring!

    An idea for storing greens: after washing greens and shaking them off (no salad spinner), I gently roll them in a thin tea towel and then refrigerate the bundle in a giant plastic bag, without sealing the bag. Sometimes I change the towel mid-week if I think it’s too damp. This keeps the greens fresh and crispy for a week, with no moisture gathering inside. Like you, I wash and reuse the bag over and over… 🙂

    Thank you a thousand times for your generosity in sharing so much information. Sure appreciate you!

  • Annmarie Freeseha

    I am so happy you started this website! I deleted my social media and it makes me happy that I can still enjoy all of your very helpful information. Thank you!

    • DeannaCat

      Oh yay! That is so awesome we can still stay connected! Good for you. There is so much ugliness and distraction out there these days. Yup, that is one major reason I wanted to start this site…. So no matter the social media trends, all the info is here for us all in one stable, organized place! 🙂 Thanks for sticking with us!

  • Nicolle

    I love the cut-and-come again harvest method. My strawberry cabbage lettuce and red mix did wonderfully this year, and I’ve been able to harvest at least once a week. It’s so amazing to see the plants replace what I harvested and then some.
    Since Philly does have hot summers, I had to completely cut 4 of my lettuces because they started to bolt. But, there’s still 4 more happily growing.

    The leaves on mine aren’t that big, and I’ve found tupperware and Stasher bags have worked quite well for storage. Hopefully, one day Stasher will make large bags.

  • Maggie

    Getting ready to plant some greens for fall/winter right now over here in 5b! Thanks for this! Going to try and get some well established kales/chards for winter! See how long they can hold out for!

    Any thoughts on spinach? All my spinach usually bolts so quickly. Makes me so sad 😭

    • DeannaCat

      Do you usually try to grow it in the spring, or fall? If you’ve only tried one, maybe try the other? Or shade cloth? Spinach is kind of finicky here too, but for other reasons: aphids won’t leave it alone!! We skip it many years – not worth the fuss or space if there are other prolific greens that are easier to maintain.

    • Riley Bianchi

      Thank you! This method has been so good for me this year. I hope I eventually get a kale tree like yours haha

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