Harvesting Aloe Vera
So, you've grown your aloe vera really big. Like maybe even way too big. What now?
Now it's time to actually put your aloe vera to use. When you harvest aloe vera gel, you can make your own skin care products or make juice to drink as is or put into smoothies. Make sure you have a variety of recycled glass jars and containers on hand. What you're after is the lightest-colored, pulp-gel inside the spiky leaves. This part of the plant gets firmer or mushier depending on how well watered it is or not.
It's often a lot easier to tell when it's time to prune back an aloe than most people imagine. Frequently the plant has begun self-pruning already. This is when leaves fold over and shrivel up on their own, sometimes from the tips of a spike, sometimes from mid-leaf. This can be a sign a plant needs more water but it can also be a sign that a plant has utterly out-grown it's living situation.
I had a really big aloe vera and then potted it up, and the increased room made it explode with pups, which I then neglected to thin. But really, this gave me a chance to do something I've wanted to do in close to two decades of growing aloes, and that's harvest my own gel from plants I grew myself. As messy as the plants have gotten, this is perfect for doing this.
Time required: one to several hours, depending on the size of aloe to be harvested
Cost: harvesting can be done entirely with items on hand at home
- One seriously mature and over-sized aloe vera plant. (actually just a really big one will work too)
- garden scissors or clippers
- a waterproof dropcloth
- a good cutting knife
- a large bowl for holding aloe gel
- a really large bucket for aloe cuttings/scraps/compost
1. Try and do this outdoors if you can, but if not put down a sturdy and waterproof dropcloth in your work area. Everything is going to get sticky. Everything. Not matter what. Okay, ready to go?
2. Using sturdy garden scissors or clippers, cut the large aloe leaves off the plant, making your cuts close to the main stem. Expect it to be sort of sticky. Wearing gloves is optional. A thinner nitrile glove is really useful at this point.
3. If you have a large section of plant you are going to process, cut that whole chunk of stem away and then cut the leaves off separately after that. Make longer cuts along the spiked edges and get rid of that part first to minimize injury.
4. How much you cut and save will depend on how big your plant is or what you are trying to make. You are either going to peel the skin off of chunks of gel, or be scooping or scraping gel off leaves, depending on how you approach the harvesting.
5. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO WITH YOUR ALOE BEFORE YOU START HARVESTING. Seriously. Otherwise you wind up with a fridge or freezer full of aloe gel that just sits there, waiting for you to think up something to do with it.
Anyone else out there growing aloe vera as more than just a houseplant or single-use burn remedy? How big did you get your aloe? Did you make juice? Something else? Please share your aloe stories!