What can you say about collards? You either hate or love collards. My wife of 26 years and I have most things in common; however, my love of collards is not one. Leafy greens, such as turnips, mustard, collards, kale and spinach are cool season crops. They should be grown in early spring and fall for maximum yields.
Kale and spinach can withstand temperatures into the upper teens. The other greens may withstand light to medium frost. As a matter of fact, some people prefer a light frost on collards before they are harvested.
Most gardeners start their leafy greens by buying transplants. Remember, you get what you pay for. Make sure the transplants are free of insect and disease.
Leafy greens grow best in a sunny area where the soil is loose, rich and well-drained. Although leafy crops will tolerate some shade they grow better with at least six hours of sunshine daily.
Greens may be grown in a variety of soils. Soils should be well drained, rich in organic matter and thoroughly tilled.
A pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is desirable for all of the greens except spinach, which thrives best in a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8. In other words, if you have not applied lime in recent years there is a good chance lime should be added to the soil.
Leafy vegetables require quick, continuous growth of the best quality. They especially need nitrogen for good, dark green color and tenderness.
Follow soil test results. For average soils, use ¾ to l pound of 10-10-10 per 25 square foot before planting. Sidedress with 1 ounce of 10-10-10 per 25 feet of row three to five times after seeding or transplanting.
Leafy vegetables are well adapted to conventional rows or wide-row planting, which makes more efficient use of garden space.
Weeds must be controlled by cultivation or chemicals. Shallow cultivation is a must. Greens have shallow root systems and are easily damaged by deep cultivation. Some herbicides are available for home use. Always check the label and make sure that the herbicide is cleared for the exact crop that is being grown.
Downy mildew, alternaria leafspot, powdery mildew, cercospora spot and anthracnose can all be problems in leafy green production.
There are controls available for some of the diseases. Keeping air movement around plants and watering early in the day thereby having the plants dry at nightfall will help reduce favorable conditions for disease formation.
Cabbage worms, loopers and aphids are major insect pests.
Once aphids become established, they are difficult to control. A frequent insect scouting program will be necessary throughout the season. Insect problems are much worse in fall planted crops due to the increased numbers from the summer months.
Many of the leafy greens are 97 percent water. Irrigation is essential, especially for the fall crop, since leafy vegetables require adequate moisture for continuous growth and high quality. Irrigation should be thorough for a deep wetting of the soil is needed.
Also, irrigation should be carried out early in the day to reduce increased incidence of diseases caused by wet foliage in the evening.
Harvest only healthy and well-formed plants, roots or leaves. Remove all discolored or damaged leaves. Wash thoroughly in clean water to remove sand and dirt.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.