A member of the cabbage family, collard greens are a southern favorite and are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, iron, calcium and vitamin E. They can be eaten fresh, cooked up in your meal or canned for future enjoyment. They are grown similar to cabbage, but have a higher tolerance for heat.
Collard greens can be sweet and tender when young, but are an acquired taste to some. The larger, more mature leaves are fibrous and full of beta carotene and antioxidants. The nutrients found in collards have been known to fight off cancer, making this a super vegetable choice for every home. They’re a beautiful dark green color and have a pleasant round shape. Grow them in your garden to achieve maximum flavor, impressive health benefits and to enjoy their distinct beauty as they thrive.
Best Soil for Growing Collard Greens
Pick a sunny area for your collard greens garden, although some shade will be tolerated. Collard greens like a well enriched soil with plenty of compost, so mix in organic matter before planting to get ready for the seeds. The pH level can be anywhere between 6.5 and 7.5.
When to Plant Collard Greens
Collard greens are a fall and winter harvest, but if planted at the right time they can also be picked in summer. It’s best to sow directly into the garden. For summer harvests sow in the early spring at or just beyond the last frost. For the more traditional fall and winter harvesting you need to sow in early summer - likely June will be your best bet.
How to Plant Collard Greens
Sow directly into the prepared garden. Since this crop is best harvested in the fall, there’s no need to take up valuable greenhouse space getting them started. Dig a ˝” deep hole and sow seeds about 6” apart. Once they sprout and as they grow you’ll need to thin them out to the proper spacing of 15 to 18” apart. Wait until they are touching and then you can eat the thinned out plants. Rows of collards should be planted 3 feet apart.
Proper Care for Collard Greens
Since they’re in the cabbage family collard greens need a lot of food. They will need regular additions of compost or compost tea into the garden as they grow. Side dress the rows after the seedlings have grown a little and continue feeding with liquid fertilizer. Maintain an even level of moisture without drowning the plants and without leaving moisture to sit on the leaves.
When to Harvest Collard Greens
Harvesting time for collard greens will depend on your tastes. Some prefer the collards when the leaves have just reached their maximum size. For plants at the proper spacing that leaf size is 10 to 12” tall. Others prefer to wait for the first frost, as that cold snap will bring out the distinct sweetness in this vegetable. The tender, almost bitter taste of the young collards eaten during the thinning process is another choice to consider. Those with that preference can harvest any time after the leaves reach 6” tall.
Recommended varieties of collards take between 60 and 75 days to mature fully.
How to Harvest Collard Greens
For the younger, more tender collards, the whole rosette can be harvested by cutting it off at the soil level. As the vegetable matures, individual leaves can also be picked as needed. Once the frost has fallen and the collards have reached their sweet peak, cut off the entire plant and get it inside for eating or preservation.
Collards can be stored in the crisper for a few days wrapped in moist paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag. They can also be blanched and either frozen or pressure canned.
Common Collard Green Pests and Diseases
Aphids and cabbage worms are two of the major pests your collard greens will battle with. To combat aphids it’s best to introduce natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings. Planting native flowers around your vegetable patch will bring in these helpful bugs that will then eat up the aphid population.
Moths lay their eggs on your collard greens. Those eggs then hatch and introduce cabbage worms to the garden. Use row covers when the collards are young and plant catnip nearby to discourage the moths and other flying pests from hanging around.
Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Collard Greens
Make sure to feed your collard greens regularly and keep the soil at a steady level of moisture. Thin them out for maximum space to grow and experiment with different harvest times to discover what your favorite collards taste is.
Collard greens are relatively simple to grow when compared to others in the cabbage family. They aren’t as fussy as the cauliflower and can tolerate more heat and frosts than genuine cabbage can. Since the vegetable is edible at any time while it grows, collard greens are versatile and even thinning out provides a harvest. Combine that with impressive health benefits and this vegetable comes out a winner.