Have you seen it during a farmers’ market day or just heard of it, but never gave more attention? If you don’t know what tree collard is, then it’s high time to get to know this this plant and add it in your garden, soon!
Tree collards or Brassica oleracea, variety acephala are actually the giant version of regular collard greens, a relative to kale, and a part of the cabbage family – the tall cousin.
Like their ground tall cousins, the collard, tree collards are very nutritious. They are high in protein and have very high calcium content. They provide 8 times more calcium and 4 times more protein than milk.
This superfood can grow all-year round or perennial and can reach to about 8-10 feet, even 12-feet tall, with some claims that 20-year-old-plants reaching up to 20 feet! They grow best when watered regularly and under fall to part shade, which makes it a great addition to your edible garden. They can live for up to 4 to 5 years and even longer. However, it’s best to replace them after 3 years since they absorb high amounts of calcium from the ground. The best way to start rotation is to take cuttings, plant them in new beds, and get them established, before replacing the older trees completely with a different plant.
The collard tree leaves looks and tastes just like the outside leaves of a cabbage, but the leaves don’t head like a cabbage. They are tastier, tenderer, and sweeter in winter and when they experience rain and cooler temperatures, but they thrive well and grow through the summer.
Once the plants are about 4-6 feet tall, it’s best to cut the top foot of the main stem off. This will allow more side branches to grow. If you cut the trees short, their leaves will be smaller and if you let them grow tall, the leaves will be bigger. However, letting them grow very tall is not advisable since strong winds can blow them over. If you plan to keep them tall, then stalk them with a 10-foot pole with a 3-foot base buried underground.
How to Grow Tree Collards
They rarely produce seed, so the best way to propagate them is from cuttings. Just cut a non-woody healthy branch that can be cut into more than 2 cuttings that are about 4 -6 inches long with at least 6-8 nodes each. You can get up to 6 cuttings of tree collard from a good-sized branch with nodes spaced closely. You can increase the length of each to 6-8 inches with nodes are spaced apart, but do not cut longer than 12-inch long cuttings.
Remove all the leaves from the cuttings, leaving the upper 1-2 leaves.
Cut and Grow Roots
First, you need to determine the top from the bottom of the tree collard cutting’s nodes. The bottom part a node is more curved that the top. The top part of the node is where their new roots/leaves will grow out. The nodes will look like a smile or a heart when the cuttings are on the right side up.
After determining the top, cut it diagonally or an angle to prevent water retentions and avoid rotting. Cut the bottoms parts flat, cutting off about 1 inch and cutting below the succeeding node. This will allow the cutting to pick more water easily. A clean, fresh cut will also encourage a good root system to grow. The flat cut will also help you remember which way to plant the cuttings.
Put each cutting on a 1.5-2-inch hole in a 3-inch deep mounded soil in a flat, ensuring that at least e nodes are under the mound and 3 nodes are above. Put the flats under partial shade and keep them evenly moist. If planting during summer, then put the flats under full shade.
In about 2-4 months, the cuttings will have full root of about 3-4-inch tendrils forking from their nodes under the ground and will have 2 leaves growing from the nodes above. It’s best to transplant the cuttings in spring or while the weather and temperature is mild. Each cutting should have 1 strong stem, so remove the others that have grown.
Plant each cutting 1-foot away from each other in 9-inch holes for smaller leaves and 15-inch holes for bigger leaves. Smaller leaves mean longer harvest time with the large number of leaves. It’s difficult to sell bigger leaves.
Keep in mind the tree collards grow tall, so make sure that the cuttings are planted deep enough to secure the plant firmly. Plant 2-4 nodes without roots beneath the soil to increase stability and allow other roots to develop as well.
Stake and Shade
Right after transplanting, put an 8x1x1-inch stake and burry 18-24 inches into the soil placed about 2-inches from a plant. When the stakes are buried, drape a 30-percent shade net over the newly transplanted collard tree. When the plants are 18-inch tall, loosely lop a figure 8 heavy twine around the plant and the stake, about 1-foot from the soil, tying a new loop 1 1/2-feet above the previous one periodically as the plants grow taller to provide adequate support.
How to Harvest
It’s best for marketing and consumption purposes to harvest the leaves from your tree collards during cooler weather. The sweetest leaves are ones harvested after a light frost.
The best larger leaves are 40 percent purple and 60 percent green, which are the most delicious (green leaves aren’t as sweet), leaving at least 5 leaves on top of each stalk and 6-8 during winter, to ensure the plant has enough leaves for photosynthesis stays alive. If harvesting on stems with small leaves, then remove about 1/3 of the tree collard leaves. Leave purple leaves at the bottom to fall from the stem naturally. If you remove them, the leaves on top will turn people the following day, which will reduce your yield.
How to Prune
You need to prune your tree collards 2-3 weeks before the hottest heat of the summer to give them enough time to grow for the winter harvest season. The best method is to prune the tree collards 2 feet during the first year, 2.5 feet on the second, and 3 feet on the third. Prune out twisted or bent, woody, and weak stems, leaving about 3-4 of the strongest and healthiest stems.
Loosen the soil about 3-4 inches deep between each and around the bed edges to let water in easily and aerate the soil, making sure not the disturb the roots in the process, and then water well, about 6 minutes for every 100 square feet.
How to Eat and Enjoy
You can use them raw or cooked in any dish that calls for cabbage, collards, and kale – they just cook longer than kale. They are especially wonderful in sauces and soups. The stems can also be eaten and are 2 times sweeter than the leaves.
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