The collard is a green, leafy vegetable whose nutritious cabbage-like leaves are cooked as greens. It has been a mainstay in home gardens all over Florida and other southern states for many years. The collard plant is a biennial, which means it sends up a flower stalk in the second season of its growth. In Florida, the collard thrives over a wide range of growing conditions and is grown throughout most of the year. However, the quality and taste are better and the plant grows best during the cooler months of the year. The best quality collards are those planted in the fall and harvested during light frost periods of early winter. The plant can withstand exposure to temperatures as low as 15°F, unless such a freeze abruptly follows a warm period of growth. Collards require 6-8 weeks after planting before they are ready for harvest.
Freshly harvested leaves should be washed, cooled immediately to 34-40°F, and stored in the refrigerator crisper until used. Like other cooking greens such as turnips and mustards, collard leaves are cut into thin, chewable pieces and then pot-boiled along with meat or other seasoning until tender.
The standard, old-time favorite collard variety is `Georgia’ (also known as `Southern’). `Georgia’ is characterized by its smooth leaves and whitish stems. The main stem of the plant averages around 3 feet tall, but may exceed 6 feet. The other standard variety is `Vates,’ which has wavy leaves. Other varieties recommended for Florida are `Hicrop,’ `Heavicrop,’ and `Blue Max,’ which are very uniform hybrids.