by Matt Gibson
Ever wondered how to grow collard greens in your own garden at home? You have come to the right place. In this article, we have gathered together everything you need to know about collard greens. We touch on the nutritional value and health benefits of collard greens, we break down the different varieties available to gardeners, then we provide all of the information, including tips and tricks for how to successfully grow collard greens in your garden. Finally, we let you know what pests and diseases to watch out for, and some steps you can take to prevent infestations. We even listed some links at the end for further fun and research.
Collards are a culinary staple in the deep south, and when prepared correctly, they can be the star of the show, even outshining main entrees in sheer deliciousness. Hailing from the Brassica family, like cabbage, broccoli, and many other common vegetables, collard greens are known for their large, dark-green, edible leaves. Though the southern states have taken collard greens as their own, collard green consumption did not originate in the southern US. In fact, people have been eating collards for over 2000 years, with the earliest evidence of cultivation dating all the way back to ancient Greece. Collard greens are also a fixture of the traditional New Year’s meal, along with black-eyed peas and cornbread. The greens are consumed in order to encourage financial prosperity in the coming year.
Collard Greens are also an excellent source of antioxidants, rich in vitamins K, A, and C, as well as manganese, fiber, and calcium. They also provide lower levels of many other nutrients that your body needs. Collards have long been used for their ability to help regulate the body’s cholesterol levels, but new research has shown that collards are a standout vegetable when it comes to cancer prevention. Collard greens provide nutritional support for three of our bodies systems that are linked closely with cancer prevention (detox system/antioxidant system /anti inflammatory system). Collard greens have also been found to help improve the functionality of the human body’s digestive and cardiovascular systems.
In order to get the most nutrients and health benefits out of your homegrown collard greens, be sure not to overcook them. Overcooked collard greens have an unpleasantly slimy texture, and emit a sulphurous smell, but more importantly, overcooking your collards zaps out a significant amount of the healthy nutrients that they naturally contain. Quickly steaming or lightly sauteing your collard greens is highly recommended. In short, you should attempt to limit the level of heat that you cook them under, as well as the duration of exposure to the heat source.
Though there are countless recipes online for making the perfect batch of collard greens, many of them suggest cooking them too high and too long. Be sure to find a recipe that encourages you to turn off the burners before the greens start to wilt and turn slimy. Your body and your tastebuds will thank you.
Types of Collard Greens
The best types of collards for gardeners are high-yielding varieties that are resistant to premature flowering and bolting. There are smooth-leaved types and savoy-leaved (curled, wrinkled leaves) types available. There are also tall, upright varieties, as well as short, compact plants. Both hybrid and open-pollinated species are available. Hybrid varieties tend to have a higher yield, while open-pollinated varieties tend to be more uniform in form and maturation. We recommend hybrids for gardeners looking to grow a single harvest, and open-pollinated varieties for those looking to reap a continual harvest throughout the growing season. Try growing one or more of the following selections:
Flash – The Flash variety is a high-yielding, bolt resistant hybrid with smooth leaves that grows upright and is well suited to a wide range of growing environments.
Vates – Vates is an open-pollinated collard green variety that has excellent yield, bolt-resistance, and uniformity. Vates collard plants are short and compact, with smooth leaves.
Top Pick – This variety is a savoy-leaved hybrid that is slow to bolt and highly productive.
Champion – The Champion variety is open-pollinated, short and compact, and produces smooth leaves. Very similar to vates but with a lower yield, but more resistance to bolting and early flowering.
Green Glaze – Green Glaze is an older variety of collard, sometimes called greasy collard, due to its shiny, smooth, bright green leaves. This variety is still grown today because it is slow to bolt, compact, highly productive, and resistant to caterpillar damage.
Growing Conditions for Collard Greens
Collard Greens are a cool season vegetable plant. In the south, they are planted in the late summer or early fall for a winter harvest. In northern states, they are planted a little earlier in the fall for a winter harvest. They can also be planted in the early spring for a summer harvest, but only in cooler areas (and only when plenty of water is provided during the heat of the summer, or bolting will occur).
Collard greens are not only frost-tolerant, but frost actually improves the flavor of the leaves. USDA growing zones 6 and below are ideal for a late season crop. In zones 8 and up, you will get the best crop by planting in the fall and harvesting throughout the winter.
Collard greens enjoy full sunlight exposure in most climates but will need partial shade if grown in a particularly hot area, especially during the summer. The most important environmental condition for collard greens is a consistently moist and fertile soil. They prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH around 6.0 to 6.5 with lots of organic matter.
How to Plant Collard Greens
Collard green plants tend to be rather large and need ample room to grow, and can be started by seed or transplant. Plant in rows that are spaced at least three feet apart. Thin seedlings down to 18 inches apart within the rows. Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep into the soil. Because collards can handle cool spring weather and enjoy a good frost, its best to start them outdoors two weeks before the last frost date. Alternatively, you could get a head start by sowing the seeds indoors four to six weeks earlier and moving the seedlings outdoors around the time of the last frost date.
Care of Collard Greens
Keep your collard green plants well-watered, keeping the soil moist at all times instead of letting it dry out between waterings. Harvest your collard leaves regularly by cutting off the largest leaves to encourage new growth and to allow newer, smaller leaves, more time to mature before harvesting. Harvesting regularly will keep your plants in the habit of producing new leaves in the place of the ones you took away.
Side dress the soil with composted manure or a slow release fertilizer every four to six weeks. This will keep your collard plants producing rapidly, even through multiple harvests. Add a layer of mulch to keep the leaves clean and to help the soil retain moisture.
Though collard green plants enjoy a light frost, prolonged exposure to temperatures that are below freezing will kill your collard plants. In order to continue reaping a harvest in cold climate areas, you will want to protect your collard green plants with a hoop house or a cold frame. Overwintering is a must if you plan to save seed, as collard green plants are biennial.
Pests and Diseases of Collard Greens
Though the plant’s tough leaves do provide some extra protection, collard greens suffer from the same pests and diseases as most other members of the cabbage family. Insect pests that are known to trouble collard greens include aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, slugs, and flea beetles. Smaller pests, such as aphids, can be blasted off of the leaves by spraying them down with the water hose. Slugs and worms can be removed by hand. Organic pesticides can be used as well, but as a general rule, don’t use harsh chemicals on plants that you are cultivating for consumption.
Diseases that trouble the collard green plant include blackleg, black rot, clubroot, and cabbage yellows. Clubroot is less likely to rear its head if the soil is amended to a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5. As diseases tend to build up in the soil, one of the best ways to prevent them is to rotate your crops each growing season, taking care not to plant collard greens, or other cruciferous vegetable plants in the same spot each year. It’s also important not to leave your collard plants standing through the winter months if you are experiencing any disease or pest problems. Cut the entire plants down to the ground after reaping the last harvest.
Videos About Collard Greens
There are lots of different collard green recipes on the internet that you can try.
This tutorial shows you how to grow and harvest collard greens:
After you harvest your collard greens but before you cook them, you will need to clean the leaves and cut them down to a manageable cooking size. This tutorial video shows you the proper way to clean and cut your greens before cooking: