The Vegetable Garden

Mustard


Mustard (also known as mustard greens, spinach, leaf mustard and white mustard), is a quick-to-mature, easy-to-grow, cool-season vegetable for greens or salads. Although mustard is often associated with the Deep South, it is also suitable for gardens in the central and northern United States in the cool parts of the growing season. Mustard greens are high in vitamins A and C.

Varieties

  • Florida Broadleaf (45 days to harvest; large leaves; slow to bolt)
  • Green Wave (45 days; dark green; heavily curled leaves; good in warm temperatures; very slow to bolt)
  • Southern Giant Curled (50 days; bright green, curly, crumpled leaves)

When To Plant

Plant early in the spring (3 weeks before the frost-free date) and again 3 weeks later. Plant from midsummer on for fall harvest. Fall plantings are usually of higher quality because they mature under cooler conditions in most locations.

Spacing & Depth

Sow seeds 1/3 to 1/2 inch deep and thin seedlings to 3 to 5 inches apart. Thinnings can be eaten.

Care

Mustard should grow rapidly and without stopping. Fertilize, weed and water during dry periods.

Harvesting

Harvest the leaves when they are young and tender. Do not use wilted or yellowed leaves. You can cut the entire plant or pick individual leaves as they grow. The leaf texture becomes tough and the flavor strong in summer.

Common Problems

Aphids—Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.

Cabbage worms—Three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads of cabbage and related cole crops. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly is seen during the day hovering over plants in the garden. Cabbage loopers ("measuring worms") are smooth, light green caterpillars. The cabbage looper crawls by doubling up (to form a loop) and then moving the front of its body forward. The moth is brown and is most active at night. Diamondback worms are small, pale, green caterpillars that are pointed on both ends. The moth is gray, with diamond-shaped markings when the wings are closed. The damage caused by diamondback larvae looks like shot holes in the leaf.

The larval or worm stages of these insects cause damage by eating holes in the leaves. The adult moths or butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves but otherwise do not damage the plants. The worms are not easy to see because they are fairly small and blend with the cabbage leaves. Cabbage worms are quite destructive and can ruin the crop if not controlled. They are even worse in fall plantings than in spring gardens because the population has had several months to increase. About the time of the first frost in the fall, moth and caterpillar numbers finally begin to decline drastically.