By Les Harrison, Wakulla County Extension Director and Shelley Swenson, Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent.
The uncertainty of fall weather makes autumn gardening a challenge in Wakulla County. It is too cold for the summer vegetables, and the ups and downs of the temperature can make cool season crops a challenge.
If it is warm too long the leafy, cool season vegetables will bolt, putting up flowers to produce seed. When bolting occurs, the quality and quantity of usable vegetables declines.
Luckily, mustard greens are a somewhat temperature tolerant cool season vegetable which is easy and inexpensive to grow. A dollar will purchase hundreds if not thousands of seed.
Mustard plants are several species identified in the Brassica genus. The edible leave can be curly or straight, but are prolific producers for gardeners, novice or expert.
Brassicas plants include turnips, cabbage, collards and radishes, all popular vegetable garden plants in the United States. All have small seed, mustard especially so.
Mustard plants have been cultivated in Europe and Asia for over 7000 years, and were one of the basic staples of early civilization. The hard small seed were a challenge to harvest, but had excellent storage features.
In the ancient days when population shifts could be sudden and without much notice, mustard seeds were compact, dependable and a short-season crop. These same qualities made them ideal for early trade.
Like many other recent imports, mustard arrived via sailing ship. The Spaniards explorers introduced mustard to the Americas as a cheap, high volume crop.
Sewing mustard is simple. Distribute the seed in rows and cover with a slight amount of soil.
Mustard seeds usually germinate in three to ten days to germinate. Cool temperatures and a most soil offer the best chance for success.
Many gardeners dilute their seed for ease of sowing. If properly mixed, the sand allows for the even distribution of the seed.
Thinning the plants, once they germinate, is advised. If the plants are too thick disease and insect problems may result.
Mustard Greens are the most pungent of the cooking greens and lend a peppery flavor to food. The leaves are the basis for many regional and family dishes.
When preparing a dish, look for leaves with a green color and no blemishes or which show any yellowing or withering. Discard any bruised or yellow leaves and gently wrap unwashed mustard greens in paper towels and store loosely in a plastic bag.
Keep moist and cool in the lower part of the refrigerator in a vegetable bin. Mustard greens can be stored for up to five days.
Mustard greens are fat free, low in sodium, cholesterol free and a good source of fiber, vitamin A, C and K, folate and manganese. As part of a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, they are one of the best ways to develop a strong defense against disease.
To learn more about growing mustard greens in Wakulla County, call 850-926-3931 and remember to “like” Wakullaextension on Facebook.