Even if it’s summer, you can still cultivate crops in warmer weather. A successful and nutritious addition to your future vegetable harvest is a Collard green crop.
Collards belong to the Brassicaceae family. These greens are cultivated specifically for their foliage which is generally prepared much like Kale. An important dish in U.S. regional Southern cooking, these vegetables find their native habitat in Asia Minor, and in the eastern Mediterranean. They are easily cultivated in most North American regions.
Members of the cabbage family, resemble Kale genetically but have different flavors and foliage textures. Collard Greens also do not form heads like their cabbage relatives. The waxy foliage is smooth in texture and features very pronounced veins. Leaves are large and can be a shade of light to dark green. Collard green stems are tough and extremely fibrous.
The collard green plant produces yellow blooms with four petals that resemble a cross. The flowers are also edible and feature a cabbage flavor that is sweeter.
These vegetables are powerhouses when it comes to nutrition, being packed full of vitamins including A, C, and K. They also contain soluble fiber, folate, calcium, and manganese, as well as tryptophan. A serving only contains 50 calories and Collard Greens are known to aid in lowering bad cholesterol.
You can plant Collard Greens at the beginning of spring for harvesting in the summer or plant your crops at the end of summer for a late fall harvest. Most Collard Green varieties can be harvested from a minimum of 55 days to a maximum of 75 days. Plants will grow from 20 to 36 inches in height and 2 to 3 feet in width.
Planting Collard Greens
Collard Greens can be cultivated using seeds or nursery plantlets. When cultivating in the spring, sow seeds approximately two weeks before the final spring frost. You can also start seeds indoors in seed trays a month to six weeks earlier. Seedlings should be transplanted in the vicinity of the final frost date. Collard Greens do tolerate chilly weather.
For a fall harvest, in cooler regions, plant your crop mid-summer six weeks to two months before your first fall frost date. If you provide adequate protection, you will be able to harvest collard greens into your winter season.
When sowing seeds, place the seeds in the garden bed approximately a half inch deep. Because these plants are large and spreaders, space them 18 inches to two feet apart. You can plant them more densely if you intend to eat the young plants, hence thinning your crops to gradually arrive at the desired spacing.
USDA hardiness zones 8 on up are ideal for winter harvesting because winter chill sweetens the greens’ taste.
Caring for Collard Greens
Collards thrive in soil that is very rich in organic material. Soil ideally should have a pH level measuring between 6.5 and 6.8.
Full sun is a favorite of this crop, but Collard greens will tolerate shade to some degree. In hotter climates, partial shade may be preferable because foliage will be protected from exceptionally harsh sunlight.
Collard Greens need one to one-and-a-half inches of water weekly. With continuous harvesting, these plants will produce new leaves. A layer of mulch will maintain moisture retention in the soil bed and contribute to keeping foliage clean.
If the soil sufficiently retains moisture, Collard Greens will do fine in both humid or dry environments.
As a cool weather crop, when Collard Greens will bolt to seed if the weather gets hot. They are able to tolerate some frost but will die if exposed to prolonged freezing temperatures. If you reside in a cold climate, you can continue harvesting Collard Greens by using a cold frame to protect your plants.
To ensure a successful harvest, Collard Greens will benefit from fertilization. Apply a slow-release fertilizer monthly or side dress using composted manure. This will keep plants going even if harvested repeatedly.
Harvesting Collard Greens
Harvesting Collard Green plants can be limited to harvesting foliage as you need it or to harvesting an entire plant. When cutting a complete plant while still young, its crown will most probably resprout for a second harvest. Foliage should be harvested when firm and smooth. If you harvest younger leaves while still tender, they will taste less bitter.
Preparing and Storing Collard Greens
Collard Greens are traditionally boiled for serving, however, they can be sautéed, steamed, or braised. A pound of uncooked foliage will only produce a half cup of cooked vegetables. The stronger flavor of Collard Greens seems a bit more bitter than Kale. They are delicious when served alongside black-eyed peas or sautéed with ham hock or bacon. They also make great vegan wraps.
Collard greens can be stored in your refrigerator in paper towels for 3 to 4 days. They become more bitter, with prolonged storage. For the best taste, it’s better to harvest them freshly as needed.
Collard Green Propagation
The Collard green is a biennial plant. They will need overwintering if you wish to gather seeds as they flower during their second year of life. Once blooms develop, they will produce seed pods which should be permitted to dry out. When pods become very brittle and hard, collect them. Place them between paper towels and crush them so free seeds and collect them.
Diseases and Pests
Collard Greens are at risk for diseases such as
- Black rot
- Cabbage yellows
Because these diseases tend to remain in the soil, crop rotation is a crucial tool in protecting this crop. Do not plant your greens in the same area every year.
Collard greens are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as other cabbage family members. Typical pests to watch for include:
- Cabbage worms
- Cabbage loopers
- Flea beetles
- Cabbage root maggots
To combat and control pest infestations, insecticidal soap or citrus oil can be applied. Floating row covers are another method for offering crop protection and will protect plants from cabbage butterflies depositing eggs.
Collard Green Varieties
Some of the top varieties include
This is a Vates variety, created for high crop yields. It will mature in approximately 75 days. It will grow to approximately 2 to 3 feet high and about 2.5 feet wide. Foliage is dark blue-green. This cultivar is resistant to frost and disease.
· Ellen Felton Dark
This variety is considered an heirloom cultivar and dates to 1935. Foliage is dark green and crumpled. It is named for gardener Ellen Felton who grew these in Beaufort County, North Carolina. This cultivar grows to 15-22 inches high and 22 to 35 inches wide. They mature for harvest in 60 to 80 days.
Known as the Georgia Southern, this variety is a favorite heirloom cultivar. A light frost will improve the taste. It can be sown in early spring and again during the summer for a late fall harvest. Maturity time requires 65 to 70 days. The foliage texture is slightly crinkly or wrinkled. This cultivar grows from 2 to 3 feet high and a foot wide.