Collard is not only nutritious but adds to the beauty of the garden

A cousin of the popular cabbage, collard is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in home gardens, but is yet to take root in south India.

The plant probably originated in eastern Europe, and is now found growing all over the world. It is commercially cultivated in most countries with bundles available in markets throughout the year. In India, it is extensively grown in Kashmir, where it is known as haak. A soup made with collard leaves, known as haak ras and consumed with rice, is a favourite among Kashmiris.

The plant grows up to 60 cm. It bears dark green leaves, arranged in a rosette fashion around a stocky main stem. There is a variant of this plant called kale; its pretty, frilly leaves being the only difference. Both collard and kale are not only very nutritious but also add beauty to the garden.

Dig deep

Collard grows best in light, rich, sandy soil. It needs deeply tilled soil as it can grow long tap roots, as much as 50 cm deep. Dig to a depth of at least 25 cm, add enough compost, mix well and form the soil into raised rows. These rows should be at least 20 cm high and 80 cm apart.

The plant has large leaves spread out and so needs a lot of space to grow. The seed can be directly sown in a prepared bed, 2 cm deep and 60 cm apart or raised in seed trays and then transplanted as seedlings. If transplanted, make sure they are planted deep so the first set of true leaves touch the soil. The deep planting makes it stable and prevents the growing plant from toppling.

Keep the seed bed moist and the seeds will germinate in six to 12 days. Once the plants have sprouted, maintain even moisture by watering.

Like all green leafy vegetables, collard requires more nitrogen than other nutrients. Once the plant is established, top dress regularly with compost or high nitrogen fertilizer.

Harvest the collard greens by cutting the outer leaves, leaving the inner three layers to continue growing.

In Bangalore climate, with no severe winter, a plant can produce leaves for six to nine months.

An eye on pests

Inspect your collard for pests regularly. They are susceptible to aphids and cabbage worms.

Collards are one of the most nutrient-dense food. The leaves are low in calories and high in soluble and insoluble fibres that help control cholesterol. They are a rich source of vitamins A, C, K and folic acid. Among minerals, they are especially rich in calcium and manganese.

The leaves of collard are slightly tougher than cabbage and so need longer cooking time. They can be cooked in any style a green leafy vegetable is cooked. The tender leaves are good in salad, excellent in soup and meat, and make for a tasty nutritious smoothie with a seasonal fruit.