Growing, Harvesting & Enjoying Mustard Greens

Mustards are Delicious, Spicy and Easy-to-Grow Spring Greens

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Mustard greens are an easy-to-grow spring plant that loves cool weather. Mustard greens are also delicious, lending their zippy flavor to salads when the greens are young and stir-fries when they’re mature. If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting the spicy bite of mustard greens, you’re missing out on one of the garden’s greatest treasures.

How To Plant Mustard Greens

Mustard greens are cool-weather crops that should be planted either in the early spring or the late summer. During hot weather the plants will bolt or go to flower, altering their flavor and stopping the production of new leaves. Though I plant two crops of this green per year, I find fall harvests particularly flavorful.

Best grown by direct seeding, mustard greens are one of the easiest cool-season vegetables to grow. Simply plant seeds about 1/4 inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows or blocks. The seeds will germinate just a few days later.

Harvesting Mustard Greens

Most mustard greens are ready to harvest as baby greens 20 to 30 days after sowing. That said, I prefer to let mine reach maturity, when their large, velvety leaves have reached peak flavor. Baby greens can be harvested with a sharp pair of shears, snipping off the whole plant just above the crown. To harvest mature mustard greens, simply snap off the outermost leaves with your thumb and forefinger, leaving the growing point intact. Picking them in this manner enables the plant to produce subsequent flushes of harvestable leaves, extending the harvest for many weeks.

Mustard Greens & Heat

When summer’s heat arrives, mustard varieties will bolt or go to flower. When this happens, the leaves turn either very spicy or bitter. When the harvest ends, pull the plants out and toss them in the compost pile, or leave the flowers for pollinators. Eventually, seed pods will form and dry on the plants. These seeds can be allowed to drop to the ground where they’ll re-sprout in the fall when the weather cools again. The seeds can also be collected and saved for replanting the following spring. The resulting plants may or may not be the same variety as the parent plants, depending on whether the variety is open-pollinated or hybrid, but there’s a good chance they’ll be flavorful and well worth growing.

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The Best Varieties Of Mustard Greens

These gorgeous and pungent greens are absolutely beautiful plants, too. Many varieties, such as Dragon Tongue, Red Giant and Garnet Giant, have deep purple leaves with green venation, making them real stand-outs in the garden. Other varieties are solid green. Frilly leaf types add even more interest with their deeply serrated, feathery foliage. Excellent frilly leaf mustard varieties include Red Splendor, Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills, all of which pack a flavorful punch in their gorgeous good looks.

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In addition to the classic varieties of mustard greens mentioned above, another variety is well worth growing. Though it isn’t a true mustard, Malachai is worth including in your fall and spring garden. This variety is a Komatsuna type that’s a mixture of mustard green and spinach. The leaves are deep green, thick and shiny. They taste like mustard greens but have the more succulent texture of spinach. And, unlike true mustards, Malachai doesn’t seem to be bothered by flea beetles.

The following five mustard greens are top-notch:

1. Red Giant

The standard for purple-leaved mustard varieties, Red Giant produces gigantic leaves that are deep purple with medium green veins. Ready to pick at the baby stage at just 25 days or the full-leaf size in 45. Their spice is unforgettable, and their good looks in the garden can’t be beat.

2. Ruby Streaks

Prized for its lacy, soft leaves, Ruby Streaks has purple-tinged leaves with green mid-ribs. It’s also a great mustard green variety for late-summer planting. Baby greens are ready to harvest in just 20 days from seed, the flavor is mild with a tangy bite.

3. Green Wave

The highly ruffled, bright green leaves of Green Wave look a bit like kale, but their flavor is far more spicy. Green Wave cooks beautifully and holds up in the pan. Highly productive and ready to harvest in 45 days as mature mustard greens. This is one of the most bolt-resistant mustard varieties on the market.

4. Dragon Tongue

Another wine-colored mustard variety, these large leaves are crunchy and crinkly with white mid-ribs. Drop-dead gorgeous and flavorful, this is a variety that’s a bit on the mild side compared to some others.

5. Tye Dye

Fast growing with highly serrated, feathery leaves, Tye Dye makes a stunning ornamental when mixed with flowers and foliage plants in containers and raised beds. Plant more seeds every few weeks for a continuous harvest.

How To Enjoy Mustard Greens

No matter which varieties you grow, enjoying their flavor is always the best part. Baby mustard greens, harvested early in their growth cycle, can be added raw to salads or sandwiches where their spicy flavor will wake up your taste buds. Baby, as well as mature mustard leaves, are also excellent when braised, steamed, sautéed or stir-fried. One of my favorite ways to enjoy mustard greens is sautéed in olive oil with minced garlic and then topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Managing Flea Beetles On Mustard Greens

If flea beetles become problematic, know that most plants will outgrow this little pest, and though the insects leave pock-marked foliage behind, flea beetle feeding does not alter the flavor of mustard greens. I simply put up with the damage they cause and ignore the small holes they create in the leaves.

If you’re growing commercially and can’t tolerate marred foliage on your market stand, place yellow sticky cards down your rows of mustard greens to attract and trap the adult beetles. Other options include sprays of kaolin clay-based products (such as Surround) to protect the plants from feeding damage and spring soil applications of beneficial nematodes to attack and kill the ground-dwelling flea beetle larvae. As a last resort, pyrethrins will also suppress this pest, but use them with caution.

This article about mustard greens was written for Hobby Farms online. Click here to subscribe to Hobby Farms print magazine.

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