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Alert: Making Pesticide Applications in School/Community Gardens

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.

Recommended 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.

For more information on aphids, see our feature in the Bug Review.

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.

For more information on cabbage worms, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Questions & Answers

Q. What causes flowers to develop in my spring mustard?

A. Mustard is a cool-season vegetable that naturally flowers during the long, warm days of summer. Pull and compost (or chop and work the spring planting back into the soil) when hot weather arrives and preferably, before flower stalks develop.

Q. What causes mustard leaves to have yellow blotches and be misshapen.

A. This condition is caused by downy mildew.

Selection & Storage

Also known as mustard greens, mustard is especially popular in southern states. Mustard is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family. It shares the same cancer-preventing benefits of broccoli, cabbage and kale. Mustard is a pungent winter vegetable, abundant when other vegetables are not in season.

Mustard greens can be eaten raw or cooked. The whole plant can be cut at once or individual outer leaves can be picked for a cut-and-come-again harvest. The young leaves, four to five inches long , are mild-flavored and can be eaten raw in salads. The older leaves taste better when prepared as cooked greens. Avoid yellow, over mature mustards with seeds or yellow flowers attached.

Store unwashed greens in plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. They will keep for about three days. Wrap in moist paper towels for longer storage, up to five days. The flavor may intensify in the refrigerator during the longer five day storage.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, mustard contains large amounts of beta carotene and vitamin C that are important antioxidants. Although scientists do not fully understand how, these vegetables seem to have cancer-preventive properties. Mustard greens are also a source of calcium that can be important to lactose intolerant individuals. Mustard greens also contain a significant amount of iron.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked mustard greens)

Calories 11
Dietary Fiber 1.4 grams
Protein 1.6 grams
Carbohydrates 1.5 grams
Vitamin A 2121 IU
Vitamin C 18 mg
Folic acid 130 micrograms
Calcium 52 mg
Iron 0.5 mg
Potassium 140 mg

Preparation & Serving

Freezing is the best way to preserve an over abundance of mustard greens. Like other vegetables, mustard greens must be blanched before freezing. Blanching is simply the emersion into scalding water then into an ice water bath before freezing.

  1. In a blanching pot or large pot with a tight fitting lid, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

  2. Meanwhile, wash greens, trim stem ends and cut into 1-inch pieces or leave whole.

  3. Blanch no more than one pound at a time. Add greens to boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.

  4. Start timing immediately and blanch for three minutes.

  5. Prepare an ice water bath in a large 5-quart container or the sink.

  6. Remove greens from water with slotted a spoon or blanching basket.

  7. Immerse in the ice water bath for five minutes or until cooled. If you do not have ice, use several changes of cold water or running cold water. Remove and drain.

  8. Pack cold greens in zip-closure freezer bags or freezer containers. Squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing bags.

  9. Label and date each container or bag. Immediately place in the freezer, allowing an inch of space around each container until it is frozen. Freeze for up to one year at 0 degrees F. or below.

  10. Blanching water can be used over and over again. Add more water if necessary. Remember to always bring water back to a rolling boil before blanching more vegetables.

Home Preservation

Freezing is the best way to preserve an over abundance of mustard greens. Like other vegetables, mustard greens must be blanched before freezing. Blanching is simply the emersion into scalding water then into an ice water bath before freezing.

  1. In a blanching pot or large pot with a tight fitting lid, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

  2. Meanwhile, wash greens, trim stem ends and cut into 1-inch pieces or leave whole.

  3. Blanch no more than one pound at a time. Add greens to boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.

  4. Start timing immediately and blanch for three minutes.

  5. Prepare an ice water bath in a large 5-quart container or the sink.

  6. Remove greens from water with slotted a spoon or blanching basket.

  7. Emerge in the ice water bath for five minutes or until cooled. If you do not have ice, use several changes of cold water or running cold water. Remove and drain.

  8. Pack cold greens in zip-closure freezer bags or freezer containers. Squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing bags.

  9. Label and date each container or bag. Immediately place in the freezer, allowing an inch of space around each container until it is frozen. Freeze for up to one year at 0 degrees F. or below.

  10. Blanching water can be used over and over again. Add more water if necessary. Remember to always bring water back to a rolling boil before blanching more vegetables.

Recipes

Garlicky Mustard Greens

  • 3 pounds mustard greens
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped (about one cup)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth, canned or homemade
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Pick through the greens removing yellow, wilted greens and large tough stems and veins. Run the sink full of cool water and wash the greens in three changes of water. Fresh greens hold soil and dirt. Swishing the greens through the cold water removes grit the clinging grit. Drain. Stack several leaves; roll up jelly-roll style. Cut crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Repeat with remaining greens. Heat oil in Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cook and stir for about 3 minutes. Stir in greens, red bell pepper and chicken broth. Bring to boil then reduce heat to low. Cook, covered for 20 to 25 minutes or until greens are tender. Young greens cook quickly, large older greens can take as long as 45 minutes to become tender. Add more water if needed. In a small bowl, combine vinegar and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Sprinkle over cooked greens, remove from heat. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Braised Mustard Greens with Smoked Turkey

The traditional southern preparation of mustard (and turnip) greens involves long, slow cooking with salt pork, bacon ends or ham hocks. This cooking method is high in both salt and fat. Tradition is difficult to break, however, similar results can be achieved by substituting smoked turkey parts and using garlicky oil rather than bacon fat. The following traditional southern recipe has been modified for your health in the 21st century.

  • 1 smoked turkey leg or wing
  • Water

In a large pot, cover the smoked turkey leg with water and bring to a boil. Boil for about five minutes, pour off the water, cover with fresh water and continue boiling until the turkey leg is tender. About one hour. Pierce with a fork to test for doneness. When cool, remove meat from the bone and chop, if desired or leave whole. Set aside.

While the turkey is cooking, prepare the mustard greens.

  • 3 pounds young mustard greens
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions

Pick through the greens removing yellow, wilted greens and large tough stems and veins. Fill the sink with cool water and wash the greens in three changes of water. Fresh greens hold soil and dirt. Swishing the greens through the cold water removes the clinging grit. Then drain.

While the greens drain, place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, not smoking, add the garlic, red pepper flakes and chopped onions. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds. Add 2 cups water or the cooking liquid from the turkey leg. Bring to a boil. Add the washed greens to the boiling pot, one handful at a time. Use a long handled fork to push the greens down into the cooking water. If all the greens do not fit into the pot, cover for 2-3 minutes while the greens cook. The greens will cook down or shrink. Add more greens until all have been added to the pot. Continue cooking until the greens are tender. Young garden fresh mustard greens will cook in about 20 minutes. Older tougher greens will take longer, up to 45 minutes of cooking time.

Sample the greens after 20 minutes, if they are tender, add the chopped smoked turkey. Continue cooking until the turkey is heated, about 10 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Note: Although the salt content was reduced by pouring off the first cooking water, the smoked turkey still contains an abundance of salt. More salt may not be needed, taste first.