Days to germination: 7 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 30 to 40 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Loose and fertile
A peppery alternative to regular lettuce or spinach for your salad greens. Their frilly leaves are bright green, and could even be grown in a flower garden. The taste of raw mustard greens is similar to radish roots.
Most people who grow mustard in their gardens are after the easy-to-harvest greens, but it is the same plant that produces mustard seed for a secondary harvest later on.
There are several varieties for the home garden, including Chinese greens like Choi Sum. Most of the differences between the varieties are maturity dates and the coloring of the leaves. They can range from light to deep green, as well as red.
Mustard greens can be eaten raw or cooked, with the smaller young leaves being the most tender for salads. Larger leaves can be quite spicy but will get milder when you cook them.
Like all greens, mustard is very healthy and filled with vitamins. It’s a good source of vitamins A, K, C and E. You also get folic acid, calcium and fiber.
Starting from Seed
Plant your mustard right into the garden, as early as you can start digging. They love the cool weather and you can usually get both a spring and a fall crop.
Your seeds should be no deeper than half an inch, and sown between 1 and 2 feet apart. Plant a few seeds at each point, and thin down to one plant once they sprout.
Once the heat of the summer is past, put another seeding out to grow again during the cooler fall weather.
Take care of your plants while they grow with regular watering and weeding. Mustard doesn’t compete well so keep the bed free of weeds so your plants can thrive. Water whenever the weather gets dry. Moisture-stressed plants will go to seed early.
Though they are not particularly a heavy feeding plant, keep them fertilized to promote faster growing leaves.
Mustard greens are ideal for containers because the plants stay quite compact and will provide a continuous harvest all spring (or fall). Mustard plants will seldom grow taller than 3 feet high.
Fill pots with loose soil and plant 1 to 2 plants per large pot. You can fit more plants in your containers if you intend to harvest the leaves more frequently to keep their size down. Keep the pots well watered especially when its getting hotter and the containers dry out faster.
Pests and Diseases
Cabbage worms can do a lot of damage to your mustard leaves if they go unchecked. Look over your plants daily and pick off any small caterpillars or worms that are eating the leaves. Regular treatments of insecticides can repel them, just don’t spray the plants right before you intend to harvest the leaves.
The common downy mildew is a fungus that can create a dusty covering on your plant leaves. Treat with fungicide if you see it growing, and don’t let the leaves get wet when you water the plants.
It may not look it, but mustard is in the same family as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. So you should not plant your greens in the same patch that has had these other vegetables growing in the past season or you are more likely to encourage diseases in the soil.
One such disease is club root, a fungus that lives in the soil and attacks underground. The roots of your plants will start to swell up, and won’t survive long once it develops. You’ll have to pull or dig up your plants to see if this is the cause of their wilting. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to treat club root. Harvest your remaining leaves, and plant your next crop of mustard in another part of the garden. Treat the soil heavily with lime to eliminate the fungus.
Harvest and Storage
You can harvest your greens any time during the growing season, by clipping of a few leaves from each plant for use. The larger the leaves, the stronger the flavor is going to be. The best size is around 3 to 4 inches long. Don’t pull the leaves off, but rather cut them with scissors or a knife to avoid damaging the rest of the plant.
How many plants you will need really depends on how often you intend to harvest your greens. They do have a fairly strong flavor and most families don’t eat them with every meal. Plan for 4 to 6 plants for each member in your family, or fewer if you only use the greens occasionally.
When the weather gets hot, the plants will go to seed and put up a flower stalk. At that point, it will stop producing new leaves and your harvest period is over. You can either pull up the plants, or let them go to seed if you are after the mustard seeds as well as the greens.
To harvest the mustard seeds, leave the stalks on the plants until the developing seed pod has dried. Collect the seeds and use them as whole mustard seed, or grind them to make prepared mustard. Leaving the seeds on the plant as long as possible is ideal, yet you want to harvest them before the pod splits open and the seeds end up in the soil.
Mustard seeds that do get dispersed will very likely grow into new plants the next season, so if you intend to use your garden patch for a different crop next year, take care to keep the mustard seeds out.
For your fall crop, you can keep picking leaves until you start to get regular hard frosts. A fall crop won’t have the hot weather needed to trigger flowering, so don’t expect any mustard seeds this time.
Store your extra leaves in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for a week or so. Keep them in a sealed plastic bag. For longer storage, you can freeze them to be used in cooked dishes later. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes before freezing so they will hold their color.