Collards grow to a height of three feet and are well known as a Southerner's delight. They grow best in cool weather and fertile soil, and require abundant moisture. You can transplant collards into your early-spring garden to produce a midsummer crop, or you can plant them in midsummer and harvest them from fall to early winter.
Collards, which can be picked several times, offer fresh greens that are low in calories and high in vitamins C and A. Though heat- tolerant, summer-harvested collards often have tough leaf midribs that are best removed. In the fall, midribs are tender and sweet. Popular wisdom has it that collards are sweeter after the first frost, but cool temperatures achieve the same result. Cool weather changes starches in the leaves to sugars. It also changes the structure of some proteins to enhance the flavor. Minimal cooking preserves the best color and vitamin content of this easy-to-grow vegetable.
Collards are closely related to kale and fall into two categories -- loose-leaf and cabbage. Popular loose-leaf varieties include Vates, Dwarf Blue Scotch and Curled collards. Green Glaze is an old, shiny-leaf variety that's noteworthy because it's less attractive to caterpillars.
Cabbage collards spread wide but stay more compact. Morris Heading and Cabbage Collards are the best-known varieties.
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Updated Friday, April 19, 2013