Growing and Cooking Collard Greens in Texas
Collards are a tasty green that has had a long history in the South. We love our collard greens. Collard leaves look somewhat similar to cabbage and they are a great source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, beta-carotene, calcium, and magnesium. They do contain oxalic acid like spinach and Swiss chard.
These varieties of collards grow well in Texas: Vates, Blue Max, and Georgia Sothern.
Collards really grow best when planted in September or early October for a cool season crop here in Texas. This will allow you to have a steady supply of collard greens from late fall through the next spring. The cooler weather and frost actually improves the flavor of collards. They can also be planted as a spring crop in early March through early April.
Collards are easily grown from seeds planted directly in the garden. Plant seeds 1/2" deep in well-drained, deep-dug, humus rich soil in sun or partial shade and water well. Leave 18" to 24" or more between rows. The seedlings will emerge in 8-12 days.
Once the plants have at least two sets of leaves, space them 18" apart. You can either thin out (pull up) the plants to create this space between them, or lift out the small extra plants with a dining fork and transplant them elsewhere in the garden, or in a large, deep pot or whiskey barrel (they grow deep root systems). Always water plants after transplanting.
Collards like moisture and good drainage, so don't let them get too dry. You can also add mulch to help maintain the moisture level. It is good to water in the evening during the hot months, and in the late morning or afternoon during cooler months.
Collards are one of the most cold hardy vegetables. Light frosts and light fluffy snow will actually improve the flavor of collards. But, if temperatures of 15 degrees or lower, or ice or heavy snow are expected, you will need to cover them with a blanket, towel or other fabric until the temperatures are warmer. In Texas, this usually means covering them in the evening before the sun goes down and uncovering them in late morning the next day. Collards don't need to be covered if light, powdery snow is expected and the temperatures are not 15 degrees or lower. Also, be sure that the soil around the plants is not dry because collards will not be as resilient in freezing weather if they do not have enough moisture within them. If you do need to water them, water in the late morning or afternoon when temperatures are above freezing.
Pests and Diseases:
Green cabbage worms that are the same color as the collard leaves are the biggest pest I have observed on collards. Just hand remove them in the morning or evening and spray with neem oil if desired. Cabbage worms or any other insect pest would only be present on a spring planted crop. A fall planted winter crop is pest-free because the pests are not present in the winter. This is another reason I like to grow collards as a cold weather crop.
To prevent soil diseases, don't plant collards or any of the other member of the Brassica or cole crop family like cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts or bok choy in the same place in the garden two years in a row.
Even though collards mature in 45 days or so, they can be harvested for many months (especially the fall planted crop). You can start harvesting the bottom leaves when they are only 8" to 10" tall. Harvest bottom leaves as you need them by cutting them away from the central stalk or stem with scissors or a paring knife.
Harvesting only the bottom leaves as you need them (instead of harvesting the entire plant at once), allows the plant to continue to produce new leaves from the top/center of the plant for many months.
I usually cook Collard greens soon after picking the leaves. If you do want to store them in the refrigerator, then wash the leaves and set them on a towel to air dry until they are almost dry to the touch and then place them in a plastic bag and put them in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
If you have a large amount of leaves that you want to freeze and save for later then they can be blanched and frozen. To blanch, bring water to boil in a sauce pan. Add collards, put the lid on the pan and boil for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, dip them out of the water, let them cool, then add to freezer bags and store them in the freezer until you are ready to cook them at a later date.
Cooking Collard Greens:
Some people eat raw collard greens in salads, but here in the South they are usually slow cooked in a large sauce pan. Many recipes include bacon, ham hock or other smoked meat, but the dish is still delicious without meat. Some vegetarian friends use liquid smoke instead of meat in their collard greens to impart that smoky meat taste, but I prefer to just add some Worcestershire sauce sometimes. Other great Southern foods to pair with your collard greens are cornbread and black-eye peas.
My simple Collard Greens recipe:
- Wash one bunch (around a pound) of collard leaves.
- Lay them on a cutting board and cut out and remove the central vein. Chop the leaves into 1" or so pieces.
- In a 6 quart or larger sauce pan add two tablespoons of olive oil and 7 - 9 crushed garlic cloves. Sautee the garlic until fragrant.
- Add the collard leaves, enough water to stand 1" above the leaves when lightly pressed down (leaves float), a pinch of red pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce (optional).
- Bring to a boil and then immediately reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer 25 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Planting Time: Fall or Spring
- Light: Full sun (fall/winter crop), Part sun (spring/summer crop)
- Seed Planting Depth: 1/2"
- Soil: well-drained, deep, humus rich
- Spacing: 18" apart, and 18" to 24" or more between rows.
- Height: up to 30" tall
- Culinary Use: slow cooked collard greens