Growing, Harvesting & Enjoying Mustard Greens

The spicy bite of mustard greens is a flavor well-worth savoring. Meet a few of the best varieties to grow, and learn sowing and harvesting techniques.

by Jessica WalliserSeptember 14, 2017
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

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. These easy-to-grow veggies are gorgeous and tasty, especially for those who like zippy flavors in the kitchen.

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.

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.

In addition to the classic varieties of mustard greens I mention 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.

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How To Harvest & 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.

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