The season for leafy greens is here! Due to a long growing season that lasts from fall through spring, we here in the south can look forward to growing and eating all of the leafy greens we want.
All greens prefer full sun and well-drained soil, so this will mean raised beds if you have clay soil. Greens also have beautiful leaves, so try mixing them in your decorative beds. For fall and winter crops, we like to start planting in late August, but due to our mild fall you can plant through November.
Green seeds are tiny, so take care not drop too many in one spot or cover with too much soil. Just a dusting of soil is enough, as the seeds need light to germinate. If you accidently plant to many causing crowding, thin them when they reach about 4 inches. Eat the one’s you pull up in salads. Harvest most leaves when they get to the size you want by clipping the outer leaves at the base, except cabbages for which you harvest the whole head. New leaves will grow keeping you with a fresh supply throughout the growing season.
Leafy greens can sometimes be plagued by flea beetles which chew small round holes in the leaves, cabbage loopers (caterpillars that eat leaves from the edges down), or aphids. To control loopers, apply Bacillus Thuringiensis which is a natural control. For flea beetles and aphids try a hard spray of water to wash them off leaves. If you begin to see lady bugs on aphid infested leaves, leave them alone and let the lady bugs take care of the problem.
Let’s take a look at what type of green veggies we can grow during this season.
Mustards, Turnips, Kale, and Collards
If you are a true Southerner, you grew up eating these staples of southern cooking. A steaming plate of anyone of these (some people even mix them all together) and a side of corn bread equaled dinner in many Texas households. Mustards and turnips both have thinner, tenderer leaves than collards. Mustards get their name from the spicy taste of their leaves which have a more pronounced mustard flavor when eaten raw. The roots of turnip greens are also edible. Turnips are old fashioned vegetables, which are often overlooked now days, but are full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, and are low in calories.
As with all home-grown vegetables, you can have much more variety than found in most grocery stores. Red Giant and Curly mustards are just a couple of novel varieties of this spicy green. For turnips, try Alamo or Topper turnips if you are more interested in the greens or Royal Crown, Purple Top, or Royal Globe if you are more interested in the roots. All greens and turnip roots are edible, but these special varieties tend have more flavorful roots or leaves.
Kale and collards have thicker leaves and milder flavors. Kale is considered a super food because of its high nutritional value, but I consider it a super grower because of all of its cool varieties. Kale is quite beautiful especially Red Russian, black, and curly.
Cabbage comes in a multitude of varieties besides the common green form. We can grow red, nappa, savoy, Bok Choy, and Brussels sprouts. Lucky for us, Bok Choy, also known as Chinese cabbage, has become a part of the vegetable trade here in the last couple of years. Often used in Asian cuisine, this fleshy-stemmed veggie has a flavor similar to mustard greens. It’s often paired with ginger in sesame oil in most dishes.
This standard salad green will produce from now until about May when warmer temperatures set in. Varieties to try are Black Seeded Simpson, Butter Head, Butter Crunch, Oak Leaf, and Red Oak Leaf. Lettuce can also be planted in January after our last freeze forecast. This late seeding is what will keep you harvesting until May.
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