The Brassica family of cabbage, broccoli, turnips, and more is a wonderfully diverse group of garden staples. Collard greens are a lesser known cousin of these everyday vegetables, but what most people don't know is that collards are every bit as delicious as the more popular Brassicas -- and fortunately, they are easy plants to grow.
Starting the Seed
Don’t sow your Collard Seeds too deeply. A depth of a quarter-inch is ideal. Thanks to the cold tolerance of the plant, you can direct sow outdoors in your garden; however, if you want to give your crop a head start, plan on starting indoors about six to eight weeks before the date you want to set them out.
When the plants move to their permanent outdoor home, space them at least 8 inches away from each other in rows approximately 2 feet apart (keep in mind that if you are using a rototiller to manage weed growth between rows, you may need to adjust row distance depending on the size of the equipment). As the seedlings mature, you can expect the plants to grow as high as three feet tall and 16 inches wide.
Collards can tolerate cooler soil temperatures than can many garden vegetables, growing in soil as cool as 45 degrees Fahrenheit (a safer temperature to aim for is 65F). However, keep an eye on drainage; waterlogged soil will cause problems. The ideal environment is rich soil with good drainage.
Lighting is paramount. Plan on setting the plants out in an area that receives full sun.
Like its Brassica relatives, collards have their fair share of pests and diseases. According to North Carolina State Extension, many of the same insects that attack cabbage will be just as interested in your collard stand (NC State specifically warns about the cabbage looper and the cabbage worm, among others).
Diseases are less common, and luckily they can largely be avoided by sticking to quality seed such as the strains that Seed Needs offers. According to NC State, seed borne diseases from inferior stock include black rot, and mildew is primarily associated with non-resistant strains.
Harvesting and Use
Deciding when to harvest is simple. Unlike many vegetables such as corn or tomatoes, you won’t lose taste and texture by picking too early; the only concern is how small the leaves will be. For best results, we recommend harvesting between 8 to 36 inches tall. To harvest, you can cut off the whole plant at the stem base or harvest select young leaves as-needed from mature stems. Keeping the harvest plant cool is important! NC State recommends packing in ice if the leaves aren't used right away; left too long, the plants will wilt.
As a close relative of cabbage, collards shine in many of the same dishes – but where they truly perform best is in southern-style greens. Steamed, sautéed, or simmered with your choice of meat (bacon is a traditional favorite, but options include turkey, ham, and whatever else you can dream of) and sharp flavors like onion and garlic, this dish is shockingly addictive.
Texas A&M reports that collards’ edible qualities are superior to those of kale, and the plant is “unusually rich” in vitamins and minerals. The university reports that the plant has a long history in civilization, and traveled from continent to continent as far back as the Roman Empire, finally making it to the American continents in the 1600s. Today, it’s still a minor crop -- but one with outstanding qualities.
Have you ever considered adding collards to your garden? The plant is a relatively low-maintenance way to add variety and delicious options to your vegetable patch.