Fall is here, and with it comes a new bunch of plants to grow in our gardens. Vegetable gardeners have some fun options for this time of the year—greens, greens, and more greens! These delicious and versatile plants are diverse, easy to grow, and useful in dozens of recipes. Among fall and winter greens, collards and kale hold a special place. These plants have long histories and are adaptable to many gardens and culinary uses. So, let’s dig in and learn a bit more about collards and kale, how to grow them, and the delicious uses to which they can be put!
What are Collards and Kale? Are They Related?
Collards and Kale are both members of the Brassicaceae family and are both varietals of Brassica oleracea, meaning that they varietals of cabbage and closely related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, and even Brussels sprouts! Collards and kale are acephalous varietals of Brassica oleracea, meaning that unlike cabbage they don’t form a closely bunched “head” and rather have loose, relatively heavy leaves growing from a central stem. Like cabbage, they bolt when temperatures warm up. “Bolting” means that they grow a central stem, which rises much higher than the rest of the plant. On the top of this stem flowers and later seed pods form, containing dozens and dozens of tiny seeds.
So yes, collards and kale are both varietals of the same plant, and will cross-pollinate when planted close together. Both plants were originally domesticated somewhere in the Mediterranean in ancient times and were popular in Classical Greece, Rome, and North Africa. Since then they’ve spread around the world and become popular in Europe, South Asia, and East Africa. They’re especially popular in the US Southeast—collards are a staple green in that region during the cooler months!
Growing Collards and Kale
Part of the enduring popularity of collards and kale is that these greens are easy to grow! They do like cooler weather—as we’ve mentioned, they tend to bolt and begin their reproductive cycle in hot weather, at which point the leaves lose their flavor and stop growing. So, collards, kale, and other Brassica varietals enjoy cooler weather, and while they’ll tolerate a relatively wide variety of soil conditions they prefer a rich, well drained soil. Like many greens, they require regular deep watering, especially while young. Collards, kale, and similar plants like full sun or semi-shade, but may benefit from a shade cover during unexpected hot days. Hardy in zones 6-11, collards can tolerate frost and sometimes even snow, but a row cover or some other form of protection can help them thrive through the winter months.
Can you grown collards and kale in containers? Yes! Collards and kale can do quite well in containers, but they’ll need a bit more protection from extremes of temperature. In warmer weather they may require more water and a bit of shade every now and then, while in cold weather you’ll want to provide some additional protection—again, a row cover or mobile greenhouse can do wonders—so that their roots stay warm enough to keep them healthy.
When the plants reach their mature size, you can start harvesting leaves. We recommending snapping leaves off at the base of the stem, starting with the largest, most mature leaves—these will be at the bottom of the stem. These leaves can be used in a variety of recipes—so many that we’ll have an entire blog about them, soon!
Collards and Kale for the Home Garden
Collards and kale are useful, versatile plants for the fall and winter months—they’re delicious, adaptable to many garden spaces, and some varietals can even be used as decorative plants. The seeds are relatively easy to save, and you’ll get so many that it’s easy to propagate them year after year. You may find that collards, kale, and similar greens become favorites—we look forward to their season every year. If you have questions about growing collards, kale, or other Brassica greens, get in touch or post them here. Gardzen is all about community and we love to hear from you!