Cool season cole crops – grow your own – part II – cabbage, collards and kale

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Cabbage, collards and kale are just as easy as broccoli to grow. The season is here to get these vegetables into the ground and growing. Started now, cabbage, collards and kale will grow and finish up in our cool late fall/early winter weather adding sweetness and tenderness.

Depending on the variety, expect cabbage to be ready to harvest in 70 to 90 days from transplants. Cabbage varieties suitable for Florida include ‘Rio Verde’, ‘Flat Dutch’, ‘Round Dutch’, ‘Wakefield’ types, ‘Copenhagen Market’, ‘Savoy’, and ‘Red Acre’. If you buy seedlings, make sure to purchase clean transplants to avoid cabbage black-rot, a common bacterial disease that causes yellow patches on leaf margins. Also keep an eye out for cabbage looper caterpillars which can be controlled with a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) product. Plant cabbage seedlings 12-24 inches apart in rows spaced 24-36 inches apart. You can expect about 120 pounds of cabbage for every 100 foot planting – that is a lot of cole slaw! For something a little different, try a variety of Chinese cabbage. More mustard-like in nature, Chinese cabbage types such as Michihili, Bok Choy, and Napa grow just as well as our more familiar cabbage varieties. Bok Choy has an open-leaf growth, while Michihili and Napa form round upright to oblong heads ready in about 90 days from seed.

Collards are direct relatives of cabbages. One of the best qualities about collards and their relatives is the ability to tolerate cold temperatures. Collards can handle temperatures down to 15 degrees F. In fact, the cool temperatures that we experience in fall and winter in this part of Florida provide conditions that improve the quality and taste of collard greens. You can plant collards directly in the garden as seed. Transplants do even better and are readily available at many local garden centers. Arrange the transplants with 18 inches between plants in rows 36 inches apart. Fertile soil amended with a good amount of compost is ideal for collard growing. When selecting a type of collard to grow, consider several standard varieties. ‘Vates’ is a wavy-leafed variety resistant to bolting (going to seed) and very tolerant to cold weather. ‘Georgia’, though less resistant to cold and bolting, is a good variety that grows up to six feet tall and has smooth leaves and whitish stems. Other varieties good for Florida would include ‘Georgia Southern’, ‘Top Bunch’, ‘Heavicrop’, ‘Blue Max’, and ‘Morris Heading’. Your first collard harvest can be expected in six to eight weeks from planting. You can either “crop” the leaves leaving only the bud to grow new leaves or take the whole plant all at once. Wash the leaves and cool them in a refrigerator crisper.

While locally collards may be favored over kale, this nutritious leafy vegetable has become a very popular over the past few years and is as easy to grow as collards. Kale culture should be just like collards which will take about two and one-half months from seed to harvest. Varieties you might find on the seed rack or seed catalog include ‘Blue Curled Scotch,’ ‘Dwarf Siberian,’ ‘Dwarf Green Curled Scotch,’ ‘Dwarf Blue Scotch,’ ‘Imperial Long Standing,’ ‘Siberian,’ ‘Spring,’ ‘Vates Dwarf Blue Curled’, ‘Tuscan’ (lacinato), ‘Winterbor’, and ‘Redbor’ . Flowering kale is an ornamental type with colorful leaves, not actual flowers. This type of kale is used for landscape planting and you can eat it, but it is not as good as the vegetable varieties.

Leafy vegetables like these Cole crops offer an exciting opportunity to “grow your own” – perhaps enough for you and the neighbors. Your success will be impressive and reward you with many tasty meals! For more information on all types of vegetables suitable for growing in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – .

Stephens, J.M. (2015) Collards, Brassica oleracea, UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Stephens, J.M. (2015) Kale—Brassica oleracea . UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Park Brown, S. Treadwell, D., Stephens J. M., & Webb, S. (2016) Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. UF/IFAS Extension Service

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