This hearty vegetable withstands warmth and cool temperatures.
Collard, also known as tree-cabbage or non-heading cabbage, is a cool-season vegetable green that is rich in vitamins and minerals. It grows better in warm weather and can tolerate more cold weather in the late fall than any other member of the cabbage family. Although collard is a popular substitute for cabbage in the southern U.S., it can also be grown in northern areas because it is frost tolerant. Hybrid varieties have been introduced, bringing hybrid uniformity and vigor to collards.
When to Plant
Plant in early spring for summer harvest and again in midsummer for fall and early winter harvest.
Spacing & Depth
Sow the seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Thin the seedlings to 6 inches apart, allow them to grow until they begin to touch, then harvest whole plants to give 18 inches between plants. This allows enough space for plants to mature. Thinned plants may be eaten. Allow at least 3 feet between rows because plants become large.
If you maintain ample soil moisture during hot periods in the summer and control insect and disease pests, collards produce an abundant harvest.
Aphids: Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.
Cabbage worms: Three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads of cabbage and related cole crops.
- Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly is seen during the day hovering over plants in the garden. Cabbage loopers ("measuring worms") are smooth, light green caterpillars.
- The cabbage looper crawls by doubling up (to form a loop) and then moving the front of its body forward. The moth is brown and is most active at night.
- Diamondback worms are small, pale, green caterpillars that are pointed on both ends. The moth is gray, with diamond-shaped markings when the wings are closed. The damage caused by diamondback larvae looks like shot holes in the leaf.
The larval or worm stages of these insects cause damage by eating holes in the leaves and cabbage head. The adult moths or butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves but otherwise do not damage the plants. The worms are not easy to see because they are fairly small and blend with the cabbage leaves. Cabbage worms are quite destructive and can ruin the crop if not controlled. They are even worse in fall plantings than in spring gardens because the population has had several months to increase. About the time of the first frost in the fall, moth and caterpillar numbers finally begin to decline drastically.
All green parts of the plant are edible and may be harvested at any time during the growing season.
- Plants grown 6 inches apart can be cut at ground level when they reach 6 to 10 inches in height.
- Plants left at wider spacing should be harvested by picking the larger leaves when the plants are 10 to 12 inches tall.
This harvesting method allows the younger leaves to continually develop for later use.
Some gardeners prefer the young, tender leaves and cut the inner rosette of young growth. This "loose head" may be blanched by tying the outer leaves together to keep out the sun. As with other cole crops, frost improves the flavor in the fall.
Selecting and Storing Collards
Collards, also known as collard greens, are a member of the cabbage family. Collard greens have always enjoyed grand popularity in the southern states and lately it's popularity has grown throughout the nation. Collards grow from a main stalk with leaves that grow outward on inedible stems. The smooth, green firm leaves should be picked from the bottom of the stalk, as the stalk will continue to produce greens well into late fall. Pick clusters of lower leaves before they are full-sized, tough and woody.
Collards store better than most greens. Wrap unwashed leaves in moist paper towels and place in sealed plastic bag. They will stay fresh for 4-5 days in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. When ready to use wash thoroughly. Greens tend to have dirt and grit clinging to the leaves. Swish through several changes of cold water.