Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Cabbage Family Greens

by National Gardening Association Editors

These cabbage family greens make great additions to any salad garden.


Garden mustard isn't yellow and you don't spread it on the backside of a ham sandwich. It's leafy, curly, green and very nutritious.

Mustard planted in late summer, about eight weeks before the first fall frost date, is tops for a late harvest. Cold weather and light frosts improve mustard's flavor, just as cold weather does good things for the taste of collards and kale. If you live where the winters are mild, plant mustard in late summer, and you'll harvest greens through the fall and into winter since mustard is quite hardy.

Of course, you can plant mustard early each spring, too, two to four weeks before the last frost-free date. In as little as 30 days or so, you can be harvesting young leaves, or even the entire plant if you grow mustard in wide rows. 'Green Wave', 'Tendergreen' and 'Red Giant' varieties give excellent results. 'Green Wave' is peppery when raw, 'Tendergreen' has a nice mellow-green flavor when cooked and 'Red Giant' produces large reddish leaves.

Sow mustard seeds in rich, well-worked, fertilized soil. When the seedlings poke through the soil, thin them with a garden rake. After thinning, the plants should be four to six inches apart in the row. Start harvesting as soon as there is enough for a meal.

Collards - Headless Cabbages

Mild, cabbagy tasting collards are a traditional Southern crop, well adapted to the climate. Unlike most greens, they'll survive not only the cool spring and fall weather, but also the intense heat of summer.

Some gardeners in the South plant a spring crop, harvesting the lower leaves as they need them early in the season. Then they simply keep the plants growing through the hottest months, and begin harvesting again in the fall. It's much more common, though, to plant collards twice, in early spring and again in late summer.

In the South, collards are so widely grown that garden stores and nurseries provide young collard plants for sale at planting time. The four- to five-inch seedlings resemble cabbage plants, but unlike cabbage they'll never "head up" in the garden. Setting out these plants is a convenient and pretty reliable way to have a good harvest before hot weather slows things down.

Start collards indoors six to eight weeks before setting them out in the garden, which you can do as early as four weeks before the first frost-free date if plants are properly hardened off. If you plant collards in wide rows, thin them so that the plants will be eight to 10 inches apart.

Collards can also be direct seeded three to four weeks before the last frost-free date in spring. Fall plantings should go in 10 to 13 weeks before the first fall frost date. Cool fall nights and light freezes will put zing and succulence into the leaves.

Like other greens, you can start harvesting collards as soon as some of the leaves make enough for a meal. If you harvest only the bottom leaves of the plant, the center bud (where the action is) will keep putting out branches.

'Vates' and 'Champion' are good varieties for the home gardener. The former tolerates cold weather well, while the latter does well in the heat.

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