What’s Easier Than Falling Off A Log? Growing Collard Greens!
If you’re not growing collard greens, you should be – if you are partial to all the healthy nutrition that leafy vegetables have to offer.
Originating in the Mediterranean region, Greeks were eating them along with kale a couple thousand years ago.
Besides Greece, collard greens are commonly found on dinner tables in a number of African countries – in southern Europe – in South America, mainly Brazil – and in the southern states of the U.S.A.
Packed With Loads Of Goodness
You name the vitamins or minerals – and, collards have them! Just like kale, the most abundant nutritional elements are vitamins: A, B6, C, and K – and minerals: manganese and calcium.
In other words – they pack enough of a healthy punch to do the body good!
Eat ‘em Raw. Eat ‘em Cooked.
Either way works for me.
I sometimes whip up a salad of mixed greens that include mesclun, kale, spinach, and collard greens. Adding some onions, olives, a handful of croutons, some cherry tomatoes, and a healthy dose of grated cheese and olive oil, complete the concoction – giving it a full, wholesome flavor!
Southern cooking is just not “southern” without a pot of collards simmering with some smoked meat – like ham hocks or turkey. More commonly, fatback is used – which is the hard fat on the back of a pig under its skin – hence the name.
The thick leaves grow larger than dinner plates and, if harvested with care, the plants will continue to offer up new leaves to harvest throughout the growing season – at least until they bolt. Then, if heirlooms were planted, seeds can be gathered for next year’s growin’ season.
The larger the leaves – the more customarily bitter the taste. But, mixed with the right flavorings, their bitterness is easily masked. A splash of vinegar and a little sugar helps the cause.
Don’t forget the cornbread. I can’t eat collard greens without it! I use it to soak up the collard broth – also called pot liquor! The broth has a ton of nutrients in it.
Did You Know? New Year’s Day in the South – here in the U.S. of A. – is not complete without consuming whopping portions of collards, black-eyed peas, and cornbread!
Just don’t overcook those collards – unless you love the smell of rotten eggs. Whew! Nasty! Overcooking brings out the devil in them – in the form of sulfur. And, the smell will hang around in the kitchen for so long, you’ll be convinced that it is immortal!
Time To Cultivate Some Collards
In “The Best Organic Growing Seeds – For All Your Veggie Growing Needs”, the best collard seeds are listed – and, they are the most popular varieties – Tiger and Georgia. Also listed is an Asian variety – Senposai – that closely resembles collard greens but, the leaves are larger and more tender.
For the most part, even though collards are fairly heat tolerant, they prefer their 6+ hours of sun in the morning and early afternoon – and some shade during the hotter late afternoon hours – if they’re planted in the spring and grow throughout the summer.
Planting these greens in the fall will yield more flavorful leaves because collards love the cold winter weather – and, they can survive an occasional light frost or, sometimes, even a snowfall.
Plant seeds directly into the garden after the last spring frost or, at least a month before the first fall frost. I like to get a head start – a month or so in advance – by germinating collard seeds indoors and processing them through transplanting and hardening off before sticking them in my backyard garden.
- Make sure to till the soil 6 inches deep.
- Run a 1 inch deep furrow down each row – and, keep the rows a couple of feet apart.
- Put down a half inch layer of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture along the furrow.
- Space seeds a couple inches apart and cover with another half inch layer of Jim’s soil mixture.
- Water well and keep the furrows moist but not soggy until the seedlings start coming up – which takes anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks. Give the collards an inch of water per week to keep them happy. A water sensor or probe is a great aid for making sure that the plants get enough water.
- Once the second set of leaves appear, thin out the plants so that they are at least a half foot apart.
- Lay down some soaker hose to irrigate them. Overhead watering should be avoided, if possible – unless it is done in the morning. If the leaves are wet overnight, they are highly susceptible to getting fungal diseases.
- Mulch around the collards to help keep the moisture in the soil – and discourage weed growth. Weeds will rob the plants of both water and nutrients – and, that is not a good thing as we all know.
- Every 3 to 4 weeks, give them a little fertilizer for food. 10-10-10 fertilizer works very well and it is relatively inexpensive.
NOTE: Many a time throughout my gardening years I have had limited space – and, I found that collard greens can be easily grown in a container garden. But, make sure the container is large enough to hold a mature plant – a pot about 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep is best.
Picking The Leaves
Once the collard leaves are growing, you can pick them anytime. I wait for a month after they sprout – to give their roots a chance to get a good firm hold in the ground. It usually takes a month before the leaves get to the size of a dinner plate – which is about the dimension I like them best.
Pick the larger, outermost leaves – starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Don’t bother with the smaller leaves. Wait for them to grow up. Continuing this harvesting method will produce an insurmountable amount of collard greens all the way through the growing season.
Preserving Collards Is As Easy As Growing Them!
Collards will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week or two at best – as long as the temperature is just barely above freezing. Most refrigerators operate at warmer temperatures so, 3 or 4 days is probably the collard greens “freshness threshold.”
For freezing, blanch the greens for 3 minutes in boiling water, shock them in a big bowl of ice water for 3 minutes, then bag, tag, and stick them in the freezer. They’ll be good to eat for a year or two.
Canning collard greens will extend their life up to 3 or 4 years – if done properly.
Pests and Diseases
All the common pests for leafy greens will gorge themselves on collard greens, too. These include aphids, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, leaf miners, and slugs.
Beer traps work well for eliminating slugs. Pour some stale beer into tuna cans and put them on the ground every few feet along the row. Slugs love the beer yeast and will climb in for a drink – and drown. End of story!
If the additional plants or the beer traps don’t do the job, the “plan B” defense is to use the best insecticide known to man, Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer.
Fungal diseases such as leaf spot and downy mildew have a history of plaguing collards. If the leaves start getting a powdery look or getting brown spots all over, hit them with a fungicide like Daconil or Physan 20. Pull off the worst affected leaves and put them in a trash bag. If leaf spot or mildew is caught early, these fungicides may save the plants.
If the disease overtakes the plant, the only option is to remove the whole thing – roots and all – bag it up, and leave it on the curb for the garbage collector.
Don’t keep it near the garden or compost pile. Doing so will risk the fungi infecting other plants – either this year or next year.
Keep in mind that it is a “best practice” to use crop rotation to confuse the pests and diseases. If they don’t see their favorite plants coming back year after year, they will most likely die off or move on.
Wise Words From Jed
My neighbor, Jed, dropped one of his pearls of wisdom on me yesterday. Jed is a retired farmer who, as he says, has “seen it all.”
He asked me, “Jim – do you know the true definition of marriage?”
Since I knew that I would be wrong no matter what I said, I replied, “No, Jed – what is the true definition of marriage?”
Jed sat back and drawled, “Well, young fella, marriage is a relationship where one person is always right. And, the other person is the husband!”
Jed sure hit the nail on the head! Don’t you agree?
Leave a comment or email me – and tell me what you think of growing collard greens – like a true down south country boy!