AUBURN, Alabama – Traditionally recognized as a Southern crop and soul food staple, collards and other leafy greens are nutritious and convenient to grow in Alabama’s climate.
Generally, cruciferous plants such as collard greens, turnips, kale and mustard are cool weather vegetables.
“We mostly plant greens in the fall, but you can also do an early spring planting in Alabama” stated Neil Kelly, an Alabama Extension regional agent. “The problem is, they start to play out when the weather gets hot.”
Most cruciferous plants have the same growing season. For fall, begin planting cabbage, collards and cauliflower in September. October is the ideal time to plant turnips, mustard, kale and spinach. In the spring, plant collards and Swiss chard seeds during February.
A large percentage of greens is water so they aren’t drought resistant. William Birdsong, Alabama Extension agronomist, stated “Irrigation is very important in October due to it being historically one of the driest months.”
Greens are typically ready for harvest within 30 to 45 days of being planted. Greens prefer a light, sandy soil, but according to Kelly, they are adaptable.
“It’s hard to grow greens on hard clay soil or dark muck that stays wet,” said Kelly.
For more information on the growing season of crops in Alabama, visit Alabama Gardener’s Calendar.
Low in fat and sodium and high in dietary fiber, folic acid, vitamin C and beta-carotene, leafy greens are considered essential for the human diet. The darker the leaf, the more beta-carotene which is a powerful antioxidant vital for healthy skin and eyes.
Cruciferous vegetables have also been said to have cancer-fighting compounds. They contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that can slow, prevent or repair damage to cells.
To receive all the health benefits from collards and other greens, you will need to incorporate them into your diet on a regular basis.
Each variety of greens is unique in terms of taste and texture. Many can have a bitter and pungent flavor or a tough and fibrous texture, especially when consumed raw. Kelly suggests harvesting a little prematurely to ensure a tender green.
The first step in preparing greens is to thoroughly wash the leaves. The thick stems and stalks are edible but tend to be tough so they are often removed during preparation.
There are countless ways to serve greens. Try them fresh by tossing tender greens into a salad, add a handful of kale to a blended fruit smoothie or replace a tortilla wrap with a collard leaf. Braise, boil or sauté them with onion, garlic and crushed red pepper for a flavorful side dish.
Incorporating vegetables, especially leafy greens, in one’s everyday diet is a cornerstone of good health. Experimenting with the diverse variety, taste and serving methods of greens is the first step to a better, healthier you.
Feature image courtesy: William Birdsong