– Cultivar Group Acephala,
"without a head"
Of all the “Cabbage” family, Collards
are the most versatile and easiest to grow in the home garden. It
can be planted and grown successfully any time of year, (throw out
the planting chart for this one) although plant spacing and growth
expectations should vary depending on season and ultimate use. This
is the one pot green that you can harvest and enjoy any time of
year, although the flavor will sweeten up after a fall frost and
remain sweeter through winter.
Basic planting instructions (from the planting charts) say to start
February 1st - March 15th and again in July 15th to Aug 15th, with
a plant spacing of 10-24 inches in rows 24-36 inches apart. That
works and now that we have covered the published recommendations,
let’s look at some variation for growing year-round.
For salad greens or for small whole plants –
roots and all - (see recipe notes) sow seeds thickly in 36-48 inch
wide beds. You can sow beds every month or two, to maintain optimum
growth and flavor. A little additional nitrogen fertilizer and a
tight watering schedule will help reduce the stresses (nutrient/water/heat)
that cause the flavor to sharpen. Using a lightweight row cover
(Remay or Agribond) over the beds will reduce heat stress and pest
For harvesting small leaved pot-greens, plant the
beds on a 6-10 inch spacing or thin out more densely planted beds
(described above) and harvest often, when the leaves begin overlapping,
for small tender greens.
Going to Seed
Collards are classified as biennials (blooming during their second
year), but if you start them in winter, they will bloom in late
spring to early summer of that same year. So, be prepared to plant
again in early spring to maintain a continuous supply for the table.
By the way, the blossoms are also edible – but the plants
stop producing new foliage and focus on making seeds instead.
If you want to save your own seed – a couple
of cautions. They will cross-pollinate with other Brassicas, so
control blooming in the garden when in the pollination period. Collards
are insect pollinated, so bagging or caging is not an option. Birds
also love the seed stock before they are ready for you to harvest,
so covering them may be necessary. The other caution is “inbreeding
depression” caused by growing seed from too small a population
of plants for too long a period. Your seed will lack germination
and growth vigor – not why you wanted your own seed. You should
have a seeding population of about 25 plants to avoid inbreeding
depression. You can safely grow your own seed once with a smaller
number of plants, but do not do it for several years in a row without
introducing new genetic stock.
Georgia Southern Collard Greens is the most common variety available,
and is both heat and cold tolerant. I think it is the best-flavored
year-round choice. There is a hybrid variety called Flame that has
excellent flavor during the cold months, but a very bland flavor
during summer. I grow it for flavor variety, but only in winter.
The variety Vantes is also heat and cold tolerant enough for New
Mexico. You might want to experiment with Morris Heading, an heirloom
variety that forms a loose head, and has a delicious flavor.
A couple of curious Cooperative Extension agents in
Georgia collected seed from all the old collard greens gardeners
and farmers that they could find and did a controlled grow-out.
They found over 25 distinctive and stable varieties - none of them
available from commercial seed suppliers. So, there are possibilities
for discoveries and new developments in this old time southern favorite
What else can I do with Collards, besides steaming or boiling them?
Caldo verde (green soup) – main ingredients
are potatoes, onions and collard greens, flavored with garlic and
salt. Portuguese in origin
Haak rus, a soup of whole collard leaves and roots
cooked in water, salt and oil, usually consumed with rice. Kashmir
Traditional Southern Collards – shredded leaves
boiled for hours with pork or bacon, butter, garlic and salt. United
States in origin
till next month,
Good Gardening and Good Eating
Doña Ana Extension Master Gardener