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I hope all of you are working on next year's garden plan. If not, you should be.

Now is the time to make a plan, or at least write down some notes while your garden's successes and failures are fresh in your mind. I know it seems a little early to start planning, but it is better to do this while you can still remember this year's garden. Right now, you will have a better recollection of what you liked and what you didn't like.

A good plan can make gardening fun and more successful. While you're making your garden plan, be sure to include collards in there somewhere. Collards may not be a first-choice plant for gardeners, but I think they might be a match for other greens like kale. They're well worth trying in your garden.

Cooking greens are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. Collard greens are packed with vitamins A, C, and K; soluble fiber; calcium; folate; manganese; and tryptophan — and less than 50 calories per serving. Nutritionists say eating your collards even helps to lower your bad cholesterol.

Collards are non-head forming "cabbages," so you can start eating them sooner since you do not have to wait for a head to form. Collards and kale are similar genetically, but breeding and cultivating over the years has produced plants with different textures and flavor.

Collard leaves are smooth and almost waxy with pronounced veining. They are quite large, with a bright to dark green color, and the stems are very fibrous and tough, so you will want to cut that part off.

Of course, like most garden crops, there are quite a few varieties out there. One variety that does well in our area is Georgia, an heirloom variety that tolerates heat and cold, so it's suitable for a range of climates. Georgia produces a lot of tasty leaves.

Another variety, Vates, features smaller leaves, but it's just as heat-resistant. It's also cold hardy, so it's an excellent pick for this area. It is a good choice for those who want to try collards and don't need a big yield.

Collards are one of the most cold-hardy of all vegetables, able to withstand temperatures in the upper teens. You can plant them in spring and fall, although collards planted in fall gardens are favored because the leaves are sweeter when they have been through a frost.

Plant seeds outdoors about two weeks before the last spring frost date. You can get a head start by starting seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost and planting the seedlings right around the last frost date — these plants can readily handle chilly spring weather well. For a fall harvest, plant in mid-summer, about six to eight weeks before the first fall frost. With a little protection, you can harvest collard greens well into winter. Cool weather sweetens most cooking greens, and collard greens are no exceptions.

Sow seeds 1/4-1/2 inch deep. Collards are large, open plants. You can space them 18-24 inches apart or plant them more thickly, then thin and eat young plants until you reach the desired spacing. The young collard greens are great in salads. Collard greens prefer to grow in full sun but can handle some shade. Like most garden plants, collards prefer rich soil with lots of organic material. Collards need 1-11/2 inches of water weekly. A couple of inches of mulch will keep the soil moist and the leaves clean.

Harvest leaves when they are up to 10 inches long, dark green and still young. Older leaves can be tough or stringy. I lay them at the plant's base to add to the mulch. Pick the lower leaves first, working your way up the plant. You can even harvest leaves when frozen in the garden. Be careful, as the frozen plant is brittle. Collard leaves will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

The garden catalogs will be arriving soon — that always helps with a garden plan.

Happy garden planning!

Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the University of Missouri Extension's Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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