Collard greens are members of the cabbage family, but are also close relatives to kale. Available year round, they are at their best after they have been touched by winters frost, from January through April. In the dead of winter when you can find few other fresh greens for your cook pot and dinning table Kale and Collard greens will be healthy, sweet and in top condition.
Collard greens have been cultivated and eaten for at least 2500 years, with evidence showing that the Ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated several forms of both collard greens and kale. It is said that the Romans introduced Collards to Briton in the 4th century BC.
In the southern U.S. The traditional way to cook greens is to boil or simmer them slowly with a piece of salt pork or ham hock (A few slices of bacon will work) for a long time (this tempers their tough texture and reduces their bitter flavor) until they are very soft. Typically, greens are served with freshly baked corn bread to dip into the pot-likker. Pot likker is the highly concentrated, vitamin filled broth that results from the long boiling time. It is, in other words, the “liquor” left in the pot. It is said by southern grandmothers that “Pot likker will cure what ails you and if nothing ailing you, it will give you a good cleaning out.”
Collard is a cool season crop that is best planted during early spring or fall. The mature plant will withstand frosts and light to medium freezes. It is one of the most popular garden vegetables in the southern 1/3 of the U.S. and is rapidly becoming a delicacy in northern states as well. Collards provide a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Soils Collards may be grown in a variety of soils. Heavier loamy soils will produce the greatest yields. The lighter, well drained, sandy soils are best for early spring crops. Soils should be well drained, rich in organic matter.
Fertilizer As with all leafy vegetables require quick, continuous growth for best quality. They need ample nitrogen for good green color and tender growth. For average soils, use 1 – 2 lb of 10-10-10 per 100 ft row before planting. Side dress with 3 oz of 10-10-10 per 100 ft row, 3 to 5 weeks after the seed comes up or after transplanting, and 2 to 3 weeks after that.
Varieties Popular today are Vates, Carolina Improved Heading (or Morris), Georgia Southern, Blue Max, or Heavi Crop.
Cropping Systems There are four general ways to produce collards.
1. Grow and set transplants in early spring, and harvest the whole plant 50 to 60 days later.
2. Grow and transplant in early spring, and market cropped leaves in late spring, and keep plants growing into fall when the entire plant is harvested.
3. Seed direct about August 15, or transplant from September 1 to 15, and harvest in late October to December.
4. Seed direct to field in spring. These may be harvested as leafy greens or thinned to 15 to 18 inches and carried over to fall.
Growing Plants Plants may be grown by seeding directly in the field (0.1 to 0.2 oz per 100 ft of row) or in protected beds. About 6 to 8 weeks will be required to produce plants ready for transplanting.
Direct Seeding There are several good precision seeders on the market. In general, the seeders reduce seed use by 40 to 70%. The stands are much more uniform and require very little thinning. Uniform stands are easier to grow and harvest, thus reducing your production cost. Uniform stands grow evenly and are better weed competitors. Seed should be placed in moist soil 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep, but never deeper than 1 inch. If moisture is not adequate for germination in the top 3/4 inch, irrigation should be applied. Frequent irrigation is also important in obtaining good stands in hot weather (1/4 inch per day at midday).
Spacing depends on how the crop will be produced. If the plants are to be cut when half grown, they may be spaced 10 to 15 inches apart. If they are to be harvested when full grown they should be spaced 15 to 18 inches apart. If the seed is to be drilled in the row and the young collard plants are to be harvested, similar to mustard greens, the plants may be 2 to 4 inches apart. Rows spacing is best at 36 to 42 inches between rows. However, multirow beds of 2 to 4 rows on 38 to 60 inch centers provide greater yields and improved quality. (Re: North Carolina State University) In such a system, rows on each bed are spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. This provides rapid ground cover, fewer weeds and more tender growth.
Water requirements for Collards, require above average moisture. Use irrigation liberally in times of potential moisture stress, usually for a total of up to 1.5 inches per week when combined with precipitation is less than this.
Insect Management before Falls first frost and after Springs last frost Several worms (imported cabbage worm, cabbage looper, diamondback larvae) and Harlequin bugs are the predominant problem insects.
Harvest Collards by
1. Cutting entire plants when very young (spaced 2 to 4 inches apart), similar to mustard greens.
2. Cutting entire plants when about half grown (spaced 10 to 15 inches apart).
3. Cutting entire plants when full grown (spaced 15 to 18 inches apart).
4. Harvesting tender leaves from full grown plants.
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