Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
In the South, the term "greens" refers to vegetables whose leaves are eaten when cooked until tender. During the cool fall season, mustard, turnips, collards and other greens flourish in the vegetable garden.
Greens are highly recommended for the home vegetable garden, since they are easy to grow and very productive. Growing greens is a great way to keep your vegetable garden productive through the winter.
Mustard and turnips are fast-growing greens, and harvesting can begin as early as five or six weeks after planting.
You can harvest the entire plant or "crop" the plants by removing only the lower, larger leaves. Cropping provides you with greens while allowing the plant to remain and continue to grow. It also allows you to extend the harvest. Generally, mustard and turnips can be cropped until late winter or early spring from a planting done now – if the winter is mild.
Cropping turnips will reduce the size of the root, so you may want to reserve an area of your turnips for root production. On those plants, do not harvest any leaves. The leaves will produce food through photosynthesis, and the food will be transferred to the roots for storage. Therefore, the plants develop nice-sized turnips ready to harvest in eight or nine weeks.
Collards can be grown year-round, but the best quality is obtained during the cool season. A frost will "sweeten" collards and make the greens even tastier. Plant the seeds 2 inches apart, and then thin the plants as they grow to a spacing of 10 inches to 12 inches between plants. Properly spaced collard plants are best harvested by cropping the older, larger leaves.
Collards tolerate high temperatures better that most greens. But they also are very cold hardy and survive temperatures in the low 20s without damage.
Spinach must have cool weather for best production, and fall plantings do especially well. A warm spell can often cause this vegetable to "bolt," particularly when grown in the spring. Bolt is a term used when a leafy vegetable matures and produces a flower stalk. You want to prevent your spinach from bolting, so it will produce leaves instead of flowers.
Cool weather, adequate water and regular fertilization with nitrogen will encourage the spinach to remain in a vegetative growth cycle. Spinach is slow-growing for the first few weeks after it comes up. Be patient and keep the plants well watered, and they eventually will grow large enough to harvest the entire plant or begin cropping.
Swiss chard is an excellent substitute for spinach. It is easier to grow, more productive and tolerates warm weather much better than spinach. The leaves of chard can easily grow 14 inches to 18 inches tall, so production is much greater than with spinach.
Chard is available in several white-stemmed types. Red-stemmed types, such as ‘Vulcan’ and a variety called ‘Bright Lights’ (which produces stems of white, rose, red, yellow gold or orange), are very ornamental and even look great in flower beds.
When cooked, chard is similar in flavor to spinach, and young tender leaves of chard can be eaten raw. The leaf stems of chard are delicious cooked separately and have a mild, almost asparagus-like flavor. Plant the seeds 2-4 inches apart and thin the plants to eventually stand 8-10 inches apart. Harvest chard by cropping.
Kale is a close relative to collards and has a similar flavor when cooked. Kale is very cold hardy and can withstand temperatures in the teens. Space plants 10 inches to 12 inches apart. Ornamental kale, with its brightly colored rose, pink or white leaves, has become a popular landscape plant in the past few years and also is edible.
Cabbage is another leafy vegetable that is suited to cool weather. There are green and red cabbage varieties. The heads are ready to harvest when they become hard. Transplants planted now should be ready to harvest in late winter or early spring.
Although not generally cooked, lettuce also is often included with the greens, and leaf and semi-heading varieties of lettuce are easy to grow. The heading lettuce varieties, such as "Iceberg," are more of a challenge. Leaf or semi-heading types of lettuce to try include romaine, buttercrunch, bibb and oak leaf, which are sure winners.
Red lettuce can add interest to your salads. "Red Sails" is a variety that is easy to grow and does not become bitter until the heat of summer.
Other vegetables also can be planted in your garden now along with greens. Root crops such as rutabagas, radishes, carrots and beets thrive in cool weather. Shallots, onions and garlic also should be planted now. Garlic and onions will need to grow until May in order to produce bulbs. Of course, green onions and shallots can be harvested all winter and early spring.
Parsley, dill, celery, borage, cilantro and fennel are annual herbs that can be grown during the fall and winter. Perennial herbs such oregano, thyme, sage, chives, rosemary, mint, sorrel, burnnet, lemon balm and French tarragon also can be planted.
If space in your garden is limited, grow herbs in containers. Set the containers in a sunny location close to your door so that harvesting will be more convenient.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.