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Collard greens or collards are a widely known staple in many Southern cuisines. In fact, many areas of the Southern part of the United States consider collards to be a cornerstone vegetable and has been so for hundreds of years. More than that, this dark-green, leafy vegetable is rich in nutrients, which make them an excellent addition to any healthy diet regimen. Growing collard greens in aquaponics gardens is a smart way to provide an abundant supply of this beloved vegetable.
In this article, you will learn some tips and information on how to grow collard greens successfully in an aquaponics setup.
Getting to Know Collard Greens
Collard greens (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) are descendants of the wild cabbage or wild mustard plant (Brassica oleracea) that are native to southern and western Europe’s coastal areas. Over the years, farmers have cultivated wild cabbages into different cultivars – or varieties of cruciferous vegetables bred to have characteristics considered desirable by humans.
Collard greens are the same as cabbage, only it doesn’t have a “head” or doesn’t form into a ball of leaves. That said, it is similar to kale, another non-head cabbage, even sharing the same scientific name. However, collards are different from kale in which they can survive a wide range of growing conditions. Plus, many people believe collards taste better than their curly green cousins.
Using Collard Greens in The Kitchen
In the South, the traditional way of preparing meals with collards is by boiling them with a ham hock or salt pork for extended periods until they soften. If you enjoy cooking collard greens, know that they are also a delight when eaten raw, so yes, you can use them for your slaws and salads.
Because of their fan-like leaves, collards are perfect for sandwiches and wraps as they hold the filling well. Better yet, they can be used as wrap substitutes if you want grain-free enchiladas or tortillas.
Using collards will add texture to your dish and provide a unique flavor. They can be sauteed alone or cooked with other vegetables.
Health Benefits of Collard Greens
Since collards belong to the cabbage family, they are excellent sources of vitamin A, C, E, and K, and soluble fiber. The dark greens also contain high amounts of folate, which promotes heart health, and high levels of calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Researchers are also studying collard greens (and other cruciferous vegetables) for their anticancer properties. According to the National Cancer Institute, this family of greens contains substances called glucosinolates, which eventually break down into compounds such as indoles and isothiocyanates. These compounds have been found to stop cancer from developing, based on animal and cell experiments.
How to Grow Collard Greens In Aquaponics Gardens
Below are the basic requirements to consider when growing collard greens in aquaponics gardens.
Collard greens usually thrive in cooler months and flourish by early spring. Growers usually maintain an air and water temperature range within 40 deg F to 50 deg F. Because they are hardy, collard greens can very well tolerate frost, and some even reported that the leaves are sweeter-tasting when kissed by frost.
Collard greens prefer full sun but can also do well in partial shade as long as they get 6 hours of sunlight every day.
Like most of its leafy relatives, collard greens prefer a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.
Collards can start from seeds or transplanted as seedlings in your aquaponics system. When planting the greens, observe a space of 18-24 inches apart.
The most recommended system for growing collard greens in aquaponics gardens is media-filled beds, with hydroton or gravel as excellent choices of media. Collards tend to grow large and heavy when they reach full maturity for grow pipes and rafts.
Collards are not nutrient-demanding. As long as you maintain healthy levels of ammonia and nitrates, as well as maintain the right temperature and pH level, then your collard greens will be fine.
Fish Type to Consider
Collard greens can use virtually any fish type suitable for aquaponics systems. If you’re new to aquaponics, you can use fish types that are easy to manage, such as tilapia. Other fish types that are a great match to aquaponic collard greens include sunfish and koi.
Maturity and Harvest
Collard greens usually reach maturity in 60 to 80 days. However, you can start harvesting your collard greens once the plant reaches a height of 30 cm. If left to grow, the vegetable can reach 60 cm in height.
When harvesting, start with the outer leaves at the bottom of the stalk. You can start picking small amounts of leaves at a time, leaving the younger ones to grow for another harvest later on.
Quick Tips for Growing Collard Greens in Aquaponics Gardens
- In regions with mild winter, collards can still produce new leaves all throughout winter
- Collards that start growing in the spring and continue to grow into summer will likely produce bitter leaves if suddenly hit by the intense summer heat.
- Use a sharp downward pull to harvest the leaves. Alternatively, you can use a sharp knife to harvest greens.
- Common pests that love collards are aphids, cabbage worms, flea beetles, and even slugs, so be on the lookout.