Tag Archives: collards

The Scoop on Collards

Collards are one of our favorite greens here at Southern Exposure! They’re tasty garden workhorses that can handle the heat much better than many other greens. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have gotten the same love that kale, spinach, moringa, and other greens have gotten, as we’ve seen a resurgence in local food. 

This is so sad because collards have so much to give. In addition to being easy to grow, they contain impressive levels of calcium and vitamin K, both of which are essential for bone health. They’re also culturally significant. 

Utopian Seed Project Founder Chris Smith got it right when he said, “It needs stating explicitly: We owe thanks to the enslaved African Americans who, robbed of their freedom and their homelands’ foods, adopted the collard and integrated it into gardens, kitchens, and therefore Southern foodways.”

So today, we’ll dive into the types of collards and how to grow and enjoy them!

Types of Collards

A collard is a collard? Generally, growers divide collards into six general categories. Though they are similar to grow, they have a few unique characteristics. Understanding these can help you find a suitable variety for your garden and taste.

Georgia Cabbage Collards
Georgia Cabbage Collards

Cabbage Collards

Cabbage collards typically have large light green or almost yellow leaves with large petioles. While they don’t create the same heads as cabbage, these varieties will often begin to form loose heads if left in the ground for an extended period. You may find that these varieties also have a more cabbage-like flavor than other collard greens. They make lovely sauerkraut! Many of these cabbage collards are from the Carolinas. 

A great example of this type is Georgia Cabbage Collards (pictured above), an Heirloom Collard Project standout, originally from Bobby Prevatte, whose grandparents grew them near Lumberton, NC.

Alabama Blue Collards (left) and Variegated Collards (right)
Alabama Blue Collards (left) and Variegated Collards (right)

Colored Collards

Any variety of collards may have some unique color variation in its leaves, leaf veins, or petioles. As such, this category can overlap with the others. However, certain heirlooms were kept and known for their particularly unusual or vibrant coloration. Most commonly, collards are shades of green, greenish-yellow, or blue-green, but some varieties have rarer colors like red or purple. 

Alabama Blue Collards (above left) and Variegated Collards (above right) are good examples of this type. Alabama Blue features green, blue-green, and purple leaves adorned with white, pale green, and plum-colored veins. Variegated Collards change color in cold weather. At least half the plants’ leaves become a beautiful green-and-white during the winter. 

Hen Peck Collards
Hen Peck Collards

Curly Leaf Collards

Most collards have large, broad leaves with fairly smooth edges. These heirloom curly-leaf types usually have serrated edges that give them a more kale-like appearance. 

Hen Peck (above) is one of these interesting varieties. It’s a North Carolina heirloom from Benny and Vickie Cox that features unusual toothed leaf margins that appear as if a bird had nibbled on them.

Green Glaze Collards
Green Glaze Collards

Glazed Collards

These collards share a glossy or glazed look. This appearance is caused by a gene mutation that controls the normal, waxy substance that covers the leaf surface. These glazed varieties appear shiny because they have less wax than other collards.

A great example is Green Glaze Collards (above), which were introduced in 1820 by David Landreth. Green Glaze features smooth, bright green leaves.

William Alexander Heading Collards
William Alexander Heading Collards

Heading Collards

Just as the name suggests, heading collards tend to start forming loose, cabbage-like heads as they mature. They tend to have shorter petioles than other varieties, which allows the leaves to curl into a head easily. 

We are currently offering William Alexander Heading Collards (above). This heirloom was one of the first releases from the Collard Project. It comes from 79-year-old black farmer William Alexander, who got the seeds from his father. The leaves have a rich, mustardy taste with a hint of sweetness.

Tree Collards

These unusual collards elongate more than other collard varieties and can obtain great heights over multiple growing seasons. They may even grow taller than you! They are an excellent year-round source of vegetables in milder climates.

We recommend visiting the Project Tree Collard Website for more information on this type. 

Join the Utopian Seed Project’s Community Seed Selection Project

In 2020, The Utopian Seed Project (Asheville, NC), along with eight other trial sites (including Southern Exposure Seed Exchange [SESE]), grew 20 collard varieties as part of a nationwide collard trial for The Heirloom Collard Project. The Utopian Seed Project also grew “Lottie” Collard, bringing the heirloom total to 21. 

During the winter of 2020, the collards survived lows of 8°F, and in spring/summer 2021, seeds were saved from the surviving plants. Given the obligate outcrossing nature of Brassica oleracea and the randomized two-block design of the trial, we can be assured that there was a high degree of inter-variety cross-pollination. These seeds represent massive genetic diversity, firstly because the original heirloom collards are genetically diverse and secondly because they’ve cross-pollinated with each other. 

Utopian Ultracross Collard
Utopian Ultracross Collard

Collard grower and Heirloom Collard participant Melony Edwards described them as an ultracross: this is not a technical term, but it captures the spirit of these collards!

By purchasing and growing a packet of these seeds, you will have the option to join our Community Seed Selection (CSS) project. A CSS project allows a wide group of people to come together and grow a crop with a shared seed selection goal. The Utopian Seed Project, with support from SESE, will provide guidance and education for the process of selective seed saving. Our objective is to save seeds from the most cold-tolerant and tasty collards while preserving a wide diversity of types and colors. You can also save seeds based on your own selection criteria or not save seeds and simply enjoy the unknown wonders that these seeds contain! Once you’ve purchased a packet of seeds, we’ll be in touch to see if you want to participate in the Collard CSS Project. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the already-established Whidby White Okra CSS Project (Facebook Group, YouTube Playlist, and Website).

50% of all packet sales go straight to supporting the work of The Utopian Seed Project.

How to Grow Collards

Collards are easy to grow. You can direct sow them or start them indoors. To direct sow, plant 2 to 4 weeks before your last spring frost date. Plant the seeds in flats or pots about 1/4 inch deep.

For indoor planting, start seeds 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost spring date. Plant seeds outdoors about 1/2 inch deep.

Note: if you’re planting for a fall garden, sow 2 to 3 months before your first fall frost date.

Collards thrive in rich soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Adding compost to your bed before planting is a great idea.  Collards grow to be surprisingly large plants. Give them plenty of room to grow, with plants about 12 inches apart in rows about 2 feet apart. Mulch around young plants.

To harvest your collards, use scissors or garden snips to clip the leaves near the base. It’s best to harvest leaves that are less than 12 inches long; larger leaves may become tough and stringy. 

White Mountain Cabbage Collards
White Mountain Cabbage Collards

How to Eat Collards

Collards are versatile greens that you can easily incorporate into your own recipes, like stir-fries and stews. However, there are also some classic, tasty ways to prepare them if you need inspiration!

  • Micheal Twitty, one of our favorite historians, has an excellent recipe for Kosher/Soul Collards on his website. 
  • The Heirloom Collard Project also shared a wonderful collection of collard-inspired beverages. They have a drink for everyone, from alcoholic cocktails to a nutritious green smoothie. 
  • Often we cook collards but they can also be tasty fresh. For a tasty summer side, try this Juneteenth Collard Green Salad from Black Girls Who Brunch. 

7 Reasons to Join The Collard Community Seed Selection Project

In case you haven’t already heard, we’re very excited about a project we’ve been working on, The Collard Community Selection Project. Last year, SESE, The Utopian Seed Project, and seven other trial sites grew a total of 21 heirloom collard varieties that were allowed to cross.

We’re now offering the Utopian Ultracross Collard as part of The Collard Community Selection Project.

The project’s objective is to save seeds from the most cold tolerant and tasty collards while preserving a wide diversity of types and colors. You can also save seeds based on your own selection criteria or not save seeds and simply enjoy the unknown wonders that these seeds contain!

  1. Learn how to save seed.

    When you join the community seed selection project, you’ll receive help and support to become a seed steward. The Utopian Seed Project will provide educational materials and videos to help you on your journey.

  2. You’re helping preserve genetic diversity.

    This variety represents a massive amount of genetic diversity. Twenty-one heirloom collards have been crossed! This project will help create more seed stewards and another open-pollinated variety for folks to grow for years to come.

  3. Come together with other gardeners.

    Sadly, we may not be able to come together in person during these pandemic times. However, we can come together as gardeners, food stewards, and seed savers.

  4. Reclaim rights to open-pollinated seeds.

    When you save and share seeds, you’re helping to support everyone’s right to save and grow seeds and breed plants. Learn more about this over at the Open Source Seed Initiative. 

  5. Adapt seeds to your garden.

    As you continue to save seeds from these collards and any other plants, you will slowly adapt them to your garden. Saving seed from the strongest will create plants that do well in your local climate. You can also select for any other desired traits.

  6. Support The Utopian Seed Project.

    The Utopian Seed Project is a crop trialing non-profit based in western North Carolina. Their vision is to develop a regional seed hub that can support, encourage and celebrate a diverse food system of regionally adapted crops. 50% of all packet sales go straight to supporting their work, and your contribution to helping save seed is priceless!

  7. It will be an adventure!

    As noted above, the project’s goal is to seek cold-tolerant, tasty collards. We are already one year into that selection, but given the broad cross-pollination of this seed mix, we are likely to experience a WIDE range of traits and outcomes (some good, some maybe not so good!). Enjoy the excitement with us.


If you decide to participate, we’ll be in contact to offer support and further resources will be available. For now, you can check out these links.

Order your seeds now to have time to grow your collard plants for the over-wintering trial and to enjoy fall-winter harvests! Plants sown now through early fall will be ready for seed harvest next year in late spring.

7 Crops You Can Plant in July

Spring and summer always seem to go so fast. There’s so much to get done in the garden. We’re headed into July, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still get some plants in. Here are a few summer crops you can sow this month.


Beans are a productive, quick-growing crop that’s perfect for sowing late in the season. You’ll need to water them thoroughly, especially as they get established, but they tolerate the midsummer heat with no problems. 

For late sowings, some of our favorites are bush snap beans like Provider, Royalty Purple Pod, Contender (Buff Valentine), and Blue Lake Bush (Blue Lake 274). These varieties are all ready to harvest in 48 to 55 days. 


The classic hot weather green, collards can be sowed right through summer. During the summer, they’re lovely shredded and added to stir-fries, salads, and slaws or blended into smoothies. As the weather cools in the fall, you can add them to soups and chili. They can also be fermented to make kraut or kimchi.

Some of our favorite varieties for summer planting include Georgia Green (Georgia Southern, Creole) Collards, Green Glaze Collards, Whaley’s Favorite Cabbage Collards, and Vates Collards. They’re ready to harvest in as little as 68 days. 


Corn thrives during the summer heat. It’s an excellent crop for succession planting to spread out your harvest. When selecting a variety, check the days to harvest to ensure that you choose a variety that will mature before your area’s first frost date. 

A few quick maturing varieties include Buhl Sweet Corn (81 days), Chires Baby Sweet Corn (75 days), Country Gentleman Sweet Corn (93 days), and Bodacious RM (75 days) which is one of the few hybrid corn varieties we carry. 

You may notice a few dent corn varieties, such as Reid’s Yellow Dent Corn, have two maturity dates listed. The first date is for roasting, and the second is for grinding and drying. If you’re interested in roasting, Reid’s (85/110 days), Hickory King (85/110 days), and Hickory Cane (85/110 days) are options.

Homemade Pickles Pickling Cucumber


Both pickling and slicing cucumbers are dependable summer crops. They can be sown in July and tolerate the heat well as long as they’re watered consistently. 

Some of our favorite options for pickling cucumbers include Arkansas Little Leaf (59 days) and Homemade Pickles (55 days). They’re both vigorous, productive, and disease resistant. 

If you’re want to sow slicing cucumbers, this July some of our favorites include White Wonder (58 days), which is very productive in hot weather, and Marketmore 76 (57 days) and Straight Eight (57 days), which are very dependable and productive. 

Southern Peas

Southern peas are also called cowpeas, crowder peas, field peas, or black-eyed peas. They’re an incredibly productive staple crop that can be grown when both days and nights are warm for a period of 60-90 days.

They’re drought-resistant and do well in warm soil. We still have some varieties available. However, the pandemic seed orders sales surge has especially affected our inventory for southern peas. New seed crops are being grown out – we’ll have more seed available again in Nov/Dec 2021!

Summer Squash and Zucchini

Summer squash and zucchini thrive in the summer heat. They’re quick to mature and are ready to harvest in between 48 and 68 days. 

Some of the varieties we recommend include Black Beauty Zucchini (48 days), Early Prolific Straightneck Summer Squash (48 days), Benning’s Green Tint Summer Squash (52 days). They’re vigorous and productive. 

Swiss Chard

Many greens don’t stand up to the summer heat, but Swiss chard will produce all summer and into fall. They can be harvested in as little as 25 days for baby greens or 50 to 60 days for mature leaves.

Perpetual Spinach (Leaf Beet Chard) is a great hot weather substitute for spinach in the southeast. Rainbow Swiss chard is a great way to add both beauty and flavor to the garden. Barese is sweeter than other chard varieties.

Add a few of these to your garden this July for delicious late summer and fall harvests.