Collards or collard greens are a traditional southern home garden favorite that is often overlooked in north New Jersey gardens. One variety in particular, “Champion” is a Vates style collard that has a long growing season and great resistance to both bolting and frost. It is prolific and produces some very large leaves that are perfect for stuffing. Of course they are also terrific in more traditional southern dishes as well.
Try slow cooking them in a crock pot with corned beef, adding potatoes to the mix to make corned beef and collards. It sounds heretical but since collards and cabbages are both genus Brassica and therefore cousins a dispute about which to use is much ado over nothing and the flavors blend very well indeed.
Collards are easily started directly in the garden once the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed and been prepped with ample amounts of compost. Plant four or five seeds in one spot that you could cover with a silver dollar for each individual plant that you wish to grow. Plant them about 1/4" deep and pat the soil down gently. When the plants germinate thin them to leave one plant in each spot. Allow each individual plant 4 square feet in which to grow. This sounds like a lot of space but Champion produces large plants that will benefit from the extra growing room. Plants will generally max out at about 36" tall and spread out until their leaves interlock.
Care is minimal. Keep the plants weeded and when the weather warms in late spring mulch well with sifted compost. Fertilizer is not required except in the poorest of soils, the plants do not require staking or trellising. Keep them well and consistently watered.
Take the large leaves from the bottom of the plant first and the plants will continue to produce. Here in West Milford, NJ, we slow cooked a mess of collards at Thanksgiving, after several moderate frosts with fine results. A hard and protracted freeze in early December finally ended the collard patch, long after every other plant had gone to the Great Compost Heap in the Sky.
Of course, you can get a two to three week jump on the season by starting the plants indoors four weeks before the final frost date and transplanting them to the garden four weeks after germination, which will take perhaps ten days.
Collards are delicious but because of that very fact they need to be fenced in. It isn't that they'll make a break for freedom; it is just that a wide assortment of critters both domestic and wild enjoy them as much as do you and your family. Woodchuck, bunnies, goats, sheep, cattle, deer, the list of collard fanciers goes on and on.
Find a spot for these long term tasty (and by the way healthful) crops inside the wire and enjoy them from early summer through early winter. They are widely available but here are three suggestions for potential suppliers: Hometown Seeds, Jung Seeds, and Territorial Seed Co.
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