This is the latest in a series of posts that I’ve done about my favorite varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs we grow at Happy Acres. To see my other Spotlights, and those from other garden bloggers, visit the Variety Spotlights page.
Today I want to share some photos and information about the collards I am growing this year. When I first grew collard greens back some 30-plus years ago, there was a very limited number of types of seed available to me. But in the last few years quite a few heirloom varieties have become more widely available, and I have been experimenting with growing some that are completely new to me. The Heirloom Collards Project is working with the Seed Savers Exchange to trial over 70 heirloom varieties that have been collected from gardeners all over the southern U.S. where collards are popular. I’m growing several of the ones from their project this year, and I’ll list my seed sources at the end.
This year I am growing 3 different hybrid varieties, and 11 open-pollinated heirloom varieties. The hybrid ones are Top Bunch, Flash and Tiger. The heirloom varieties are White Mountain Cabbage, Yellow Cabbage, Jernigan’s Yellow Cabbage, Alabama Blue, Hen Peck, Ole Timey Blue, Georgia Green, Georgia Cabbage, Green Glaze, Purple and McCormacks Green Glaze. I am also growing out seeds from 4 varieties I grew last year that survived the winter and went to seed. Those were Alabama Blue, Ole Timey Blue, Purple and Green Glaze.
The hybrid varieties I’m growing have made similar sized leaves with a dark blue-green color. In my garden, the plants of these are a bit more compact and definitely more uniform and true to type. The flavor is good, though I have to say I don’t think they are as tasty as many of the heirloom varieties. It’s possible that I am biased in that regard, though that seems to be the consensus of others with taste buds more refined than mine.
The heirlooms come in a variety of colors and sizes, and there is less uniformity in the individual plants. Some of the varieties are relatively stable, but others can produce plants that are wildly different in size and shape. I am growing two varieties with yellow-green leaves called Yellow Cabbage and Jernigan’s Yellow Cabbage. Both are called ‘cabbage’ types because of their tendency to try and form small heads in the center of the plants. As a rule, the cabbage collards are noted for a mild flavor and thin tender leaves. I have recently harvested both of these varieties so there are not as many leaves on the plants as some of the others.
Another cabbage type I’m growing is called White Mountain Cabbage. This heirloom from South Carolina has dark green leaves that are savoyed. This one has also made the largest plants of any I’m growing this year, with my two plants almost three feet tall at this point. Georgia Cabbage has yellow green leaves and is a bit shorter though still taller than the hybrids.
Some of the varieties have distinctly blue or purple leaves, and I’m growing Alabama Blue, Ole Timey Blue and one called Purple this year. I just harvested Alabama Blue last week, and those leaves were tender and tasty. I’ve yet to harvest the other two this year, but last year both did well for me. All three of these overwintered last year, and my records show I harvested leaves this January which were a real treat to eat. In milder climates, collards are generally hardy enough to keep producing throughout the winter months.
Hen Peck has yellow-green leaves with toothed edges that look like a bird has nibbled on them. My two plants are tall and vigorous, and they are next in line for tasting. It’s my first time growing this variety.
Green Glaze has glossy green leaves, but it also makes off-type plants that lack the gloss or seem to have less of it. That’s what my two plants did this year. The slick leaves are said to deter pests like the cabbage worm. McCormack’s Green Glaze is an improved selection with better cold tolerance and exceptionally glossy leaves. According to the listing, it has survived temperatures down to 0°F. It’s my first year growing it, so we will see how hardy it is here. The original Green Glaze survived here last winter, which was a bit milder than usual but still got down to near 0°F on several occasions.
As for growing the collard plants themselves, I have been sowing seed indoors in early June and setting them out in late July when the transplants are about six weeks old. That gives them plenty of time to size up before weather gets too cold. I set out the plants 18 inches apart in a double row that is 4 feet wide. I believe they would benefit from even wider spacing if one has the extra room. Before planting I amend the soil with compost and organic fertilizer, and then mulch the plants with straw.
Last year we had record cold temperatures in November (6°F) that put an end to harvesting the greens, except for 4 plants that survived. This year the weather has been more moderate and our lowest temp has been 24°F according to my weather staion. The plants are still growing strong, and only time (and the weather) will tell how long we will be harvesting from them. I plan on preserving some of the leaves by fermenting them, which will also help extend the harvest. Covering the plants with row cover material would likely extend the harvest season, which is something I’ve done in years past.
The hybrid collards I’m growing are widely available in the U.S., and here are the sources where I got my seeds for the heirloom varieties:
Alabama Blue, Georgia Cabbage, Georgia Green, Hen Peck, McCormack’s Green Glaze, White Mountain Cabbage Collards are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Green Glaze, Jernigan’s Yellow Cabbage, Ole Timey Blue, Purple are available from the Seed Savers Exchange (Purple is listed for members only).
Yellow Cabbage I got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Restoration Seeds, but it is not listed with either at the moment.
If you are a member of the Seed Savers Exchange, quite a few more heirloom varieties are available through their exchange program. In 2020 there are over 30 different varieties listed, many of which I have never seen offered commercially. I have already received seeds for Georgia, North Carolina Yellow and Georgia Blue Stem that I plan to trial here next year.
I hope you have enjoyed this spotlight on the varieties of collard greens I am growing this year. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres!
We like loose leaf cabbages too Dave, in fact I often harvest the leaves of hearting varieties in preference to the heads. I’ve been doing that with the savoys over the last 6 weeks. We don’t seem to have the range of collards that you have in the US though, but I have a few in my collection for next year. I generally prefer plants that provide me with a continuous, steady harvest : All the best – Steve
Learned so much about your heirloom collards. Great photos and insights. Glad I read this thanks to the Heirloom Collards Project which I too am participating in this fall. How amazing to find out about the uniqueness within this plant family! I grow in central Florida where we have had unfavorable weather the past few months. All of my collards are struggling with bug, disease and weed pressure so when I noticed a lot of variation in my plants I was feeling concerned. Now I see that it is not uncommon among these heirlooms. Looking forward to taste testing the 3 I have: Fulton Stroud, White Cabbage, and Willis straggly though they may be. Thank you!
I hope your collards recover soon Pauline! Some of the heirloom varieties showed bigger variations than others, but none were as uniform as the hybrids. I’m only planting 2 or 3 of each variety, but the differences still stand out.
Thanks for the work you put into this post. I found it to be very useful. You’ve sold me on ‘McCormack’s Green Glaze’, ‘White Mountain’, and ‘Purple’. I hope to cross each of them with a different tree collard to try to transfer their unique features into larger perennial, multi-stemmed plants.
Thanks Erik. Good luck with your collard project!