Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Collards - A Southern Delight
A fresh steaming plate of collard greens is a true Southern delight. It is as much a part of traditional Southern cooking as black-eyed peas and corn bread. This is one reason why collards are a common sights in Florida home gardens. The edible portion of the collard plant is the dark green leaves which sprout in a circular fashion around an upright, stocky main stem. The long stemmed leaves closely resemble cabbage leaves, but they are oval in shape. Collards are extremely nutritious and are high in vitamins A and C.
In Florida, collards thrive under a wide range of conditions and can easily be grown throughout most of the year. Although the best quality collards are those planted in the fall and matured during the cooler winter months, the best yields occur from early spring plantings. The collard being a cool season crop will resist frost and freezes in this area, and cold weather will actually improve the taste. Collards are also more resistant to heat than most of its relatives in the cabbage family.
The standard old-time favorite collard variety is "Georgia." "Georgia" is characterized by smooth leaves and whitish stems. The main stem grows to approximately 3-4 feet. Other varieties of collards recommended for Florida are "Vates," which has wavy leaves, "Blue Max" and "HiCrop Hybrid." Collards can be direct seeded in the garden, but better results will be obtained by using transplants. Rows should be spaced 24 - 36 inches apart with plants 10 -18 inches apart.
Collards grow best in fertile soils, with a nitrogen content. Generous amounts of compost or manure worked into the soil two to three weeks before planting will greatly benefit the crop. Barring a soil test, fertilizer should be applied at the rate of five pounds of 6-6-6 per 100 square feet. This method, however, is haphazard and may result in over fertilization with some plant nutrients and under fertilization with others. Broadcast half of the fertilizer over the beds and work it into the soil. The rest should be banded in furrows three to four inches away from the plant. Since collards will produce continuously over several months, several applications of a nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season will help the crop. Side dress a common garden fertilizer such as 6-6-6 at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or ammonium nitrate at one fourth pound per 100 square feet.
The most troublesome pest a gardener is likely to encounter when growing collards is the cabbage looper and other caterpillars. Loopers will chew holes in the collard leaves if not treated. Caterpillars can be controlled biologically with weekly spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as BT. Insecticidal soaps are useful in combating aphids. Cutworms may be problem on young transplants and can be warded off with paper collars placed around the stems or applications of Sevin. Downy mildew, alternaria leaf spot and other diseases can be controlled by using a mancozeb spray. Contact your local extension office for more specific control methods and be sure to read and follow the label when using pesticides.
Collard greens will usually be ready for harvest approximately six to eight weeks after setting transplants. There are several ways to harvest collard greens. The most popular way to harvest the greens is to pull off the lower leaves of the plant as they reach nearly full size. The young top leaves are left to grow for subsequent harvests. Under favorable conditions collards can be picked every 7-10 days for two to three months or more before the plants decline in vigor. Ten to twelve plants should provide plenty of greens for an average family throughout the season.
Freshly harvested collard greens should be washed and then stored in the refrigerator until they are ready to be used. Like other greens such as mustard or turnips, collards are normally cut into small pieces and pot boiled with meat and seasoning until tender. Try them-you'll like ‘em. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - email@example.com or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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