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Collards
Brassica oleracea – 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.

Growing Basics

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 predation.

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.

About Varieties

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 pot green.

Recipe Notes
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 in origin

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

Darrol Shillingburg
Doña Ana Extension Master Gardener

July 27,2010


Collard Greens


Seed Pods


Covered Seed Pods

 

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