Collard greens, a heat-tolerant staple in southern US cuisine, is a delicious and healthy addition to gardens everywhere. Although technically a biennial, it’s mostly grown as an annual crop for its high yield of large, dark-colored, edible leaves. Plants will grow up to 3 feet tall, and, unlike their cabbage relatives, do not sprout a head. Collards are in the same group as kale and have many similar health benefits of plants in the brassica family. When young, it can be eaten raw in salads; older greens taste better cooked.
Vates, or Blue Stem, collard greens are one of the most popular varieties as they produce large, succulent, dark-green leaves and grow well in most parts of the country. Like most other leafy greens, this plant prefers cooler temperatures and mild climates; however, Vates collards are praised for their tolerance to heat and slowness to bolt. This varietal is a great option for those with an large outdoor garden as Vates collards can grow to be quite wide (between 2–3′ in diameter).
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 12″
Space Between Rows: 18–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–70°F
Days for Germination: 10–15
Sow Indoors: 6 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks before average last frost date. For a fall crop, 10–12 weeks before average first frost date.
Grows best in cool weather; however, Vates collards are also relatively tolerant of heat and can be grown year round (including in the summer) in warmer regions if provided with adequate water and some shade. For best results, plant for a fall or winter crop in USDA Zones 8 or higher and for an early summer or fall crop in cooler regions.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent, LED, or metal halide HID lamps. Collards like a lot of sunlight but not too much heat, so keep lights on your plants for at least 10 hours a day. Make sure to hand lamps 6″ or more from the tops of your seedlings.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soil with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of between 6.5 and 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Plants will grow well in soilless mixes that drain well, such as those that contain coco coir, perlite, and/or vermiculite.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, and will do particularly well in ebb and flow type systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Aim for about 1–1.5 inches of water per week or just enough water to keep your soil moist but not soggy.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients. Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, if growth appears to be slow.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of nitrogen-rich compost tea or fish emulsion every couple weeks.
Mulching: Use an organic mulch such as hay, bark chips, or well-rotted compost to keep weeds under control, moderate soil temperature, and conserve moisture.
Deficiency(s): A nitrogen deficiency can cause slow growth or yellowing of leaves.
Rotation: A 4-year rotation away from all plants in the brassica family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with beets, bush beans, celery, chamomile, cucumber, dill, garlic, marigolds, mint, nasturtium, onions, potatoes, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Avoid grapes, pole beans, tomato, strawberry, and Mexican marigolds.
Harvest: Pick leaves as needed, starting with lower outer leaves. Leaves will be best if harvested when under 10″ in length. You can harvest the entire plant when young for salad greens or when mature for use in cooking. If you wait until after the first light frosts to harvest a fall crop, leaves will be sweeter.
Storage: Leaves can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for about a week. Cool leaves quickly once they’re picked to extend storage life.
Seed Saving: Preserving seeds for future seasons is extremely easy with collards, so if you have good results from this varietal, we recommend keeping at least one extra plant for seed saving. To harvest seeds from the Vates plant, simply allow the plant to flower and go to seed. Collards produce seed pods that look very similar to little green beans. Wait until these pods have dried and the seeds inside have turned brown. Remove the seeds from their pods and dry them on a cookie sheet in a warm dry location indoors. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Preserve: Leaves or roots can be blanched and frozen or pickled.
Prepare: Most commonly eaten cooked: try steaming, boiling, or sautéing for different nuances of flavor and texture. Collards are a staple in southern cooking. A simple but delicious preparation involves lightly sautéing in olive oil and adding salt and pepper. Baby greens are tasty in salads, but older ones will be too tough and fibrous without cooking. Some cultures also frequently consume the plant’s roots.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) C, K, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
Medicinal: As with other cruciferous vegetables, some studies have indicated that consuming collard greens can reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, including prostate and pancreatic. The fiber in collard greens has also been linked to reducing blood sugar, while its content of vitamin K is thought to potentially improve bone density and health.
Warnings: Because of its vitamin K content, collards should be eaten only in moderation by anyone taking blood thinning medication.
While collards are often cooked to complement meat dishes, this vegetable actually stands up quite well on its own! Try this Smoky Collards recipe for something a bit lighter and healthier than many of the more traditional collards.