September 15, 2007
Plant of the Week
Collards tolerate more heat and cold than most other vegetables grown in Texas. They are easy to grow, productive and well suited to any size homeowner garden. Collards grow best in the cool early autumn and early spring weather of South/Central Texas. Ideally, they require at least eight hours of full sunlight per day. For this part of the state, Texas Cooperative Extension recommends ‘Vates’ collards. ‘Vates’ collards prefer a deep organically enriched soil that is well drained and adequately prepared. Collards do not form heads and are grown for their young tender-tasty leaves. They are a member of the cabbage (Brassicaceae) or Cruciferae family.
The roots of the collard plants can easily reach depths of two feet or more. Dig the soil as deep as possible (at least ten inches). This loosens the soil, so small feeder roots can grow more easily. If the soil is mostly clay or light sand, add well finished organic matter. A two-to-three inch layer of compost is adequate. Spread it over the planting area before digging.
Clear the soil of rocks and large sticks. Turn it to cover the plant material on the soil surface. Do this before planting to allow time for the material to begin proper decomposition. Within two weeks of initial planting, fertilize with an organic 4-2-3 analysis at a rate of two-to-three pounds per ten linear row feet. Use a grubbing hole to mix the fertilizer three-to-four inches into the soil.
Work the soil into ridges six-to-eight inches high and at least 36 inches apart. This brings the fertilizer under the row where the plants can reach it easily. The ridges also allow water to drain away from the plant roots.
‘Vates’ collards can ideally be started from transplants or from seed sown directly in the garden. Transplants usually are used for the spring crop. They add four-to-five weeks to the growing season. They can be grown indoors before the weather is warm enough to plant the seeds outside. The seeds sprout when the soil temperature reaches 45 degrees F.
Plant the transplants into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the fall (around mid-September) and in the spring (around mid-February). Set the plants in the soil about the same depth as they are grown indoors. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart in the row. Be sure to water the plants after transplanting.
When planting seed, make a shallow furrow about 1/2 inch deep, down the center of the bed. Scatter the seeds lightly in the furrow. With a little practice, the seeds can be scattered easily, by tapping the edge of the open seed packet, lightly with your fingers. One teaspoon of seeds, plants about 30 feet of row. Cover the seed about 1/4 inch with loose soil or compost. Then sprinkle with water. The plants should come up in 6-to-12 days. However, the colder the soil, the slower the seeds will sprout.
Keep the garden free of weeds. Pull the weeds or hoe them carefully to prevent damage to the collard plant’s roots. After the plants have sprouted, let them grow until they get about four-to-six inches tall or until they become crowded in the row. Then, thin the plants gradually until about 18 inches remain between them. The young plants can be either transplanted to another spot or used as greens. Crowding causes the leaves to be smaller and less green.
Water the plants well each week if it does not rain. When the plants are thinned to their final spacing or if they become pale green in color, add a little more fertilizer. Collards need plenty of nitrogen to develop their dark green leaf color. Scatter one cup of slow-release 19-5-9 fertilizer beside the plants for each ten feet of row (about two tablespoon per plant). This is called side-dressing. Mix the fertilizer lightly with the soil and then water. The plants may need to be side-dressed again in two-to-three weeks, if they become pale, and there is no sign the change was caused by insects.
For a fall crop, plant seeds in the garden about 80 days before frost, right around late August or September in most areas. Seed them heavy and then thin.
Collards can be harvested two different ways. For small plants that need thinning, cut the entire plant about four inches above the ground. Sometimes they sprout back from the side of the stem. Usually, only the lower leaves of collards are harvested. This allows the plant to keep growing and producing more leaves. In mild regions, such as South Texas and coastal areas, collards continue to produce all winter. Collards can stand temperatures of 20 degrees F or less in some cases. They taste sweeter after a light frost.
Collards are one of the most nutritious vegetables. They are high in protein, vitamins and minerals, and they are low in calories. To prevent loss of nutrients, do not cook collards in too much water. For cooking recipes go to: http://plantanswers.com recipe section. For a complete listing of Extension fall recommended vegetable varities for Central/South Texas click here: http://agrilife.org/bexarcounty/files/2011/12/FallVegetableVarietiesRev07-08.pdf
Remember, Learn and Have Fun!
David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener ‘Hotline’ at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu, click under Horticulture and Gardening.