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Plant mustard greens now for less bitter results

Liz Cardinal
Special to the American-Statesman
Mustard greens come in many different varieties including green wave.

With all of the nutritious varieties of greens we can grow in fall and winter in Central Texas, it’s easy to skip over some of the lesser known varieties like mustard greens. However, these easy-to-grow greens with a flavorful punch are very fast growing, and one of the first fall greens that are ready to be harvested, and that in itself is a great reason to grow it.

Mustard greens are also beautiful plants with many different textures and colors to use in the garden or in containers.

Purple hued varieties, called red mustard, have large, deep purple leaves that make for dramatic focal points, while delicate, lace-leaved varieties and frilly, chartreuse green varieties stand out among other large-leafed greens like collards and kale in the garden. Southern curled giant, green wave and tendergreen are all excellent varieties to grow here. Mustard greens are even used as an ornamental plant, often paired with cool season flowers like pansies in beautiful arrangements.

Planting mustard greens in the fall when the temperatures start to drop ensures a sweeter, less-bitter tasting leaf than when they are grown in warm weather. Mustard greens grows very quickly from a tiny seed into a large, 2-foot tall plant with vibrant leaves.

To grow mustard greens, start with loose, well-draining and rich soil. Always add compost to your soil before planting, and you can add an all-purpose, granular fertilizer at this time too. Mustard greens grow well in containers, raised beds, and in-ground beds. Plant transplants to get a quicker harvest, or plant seeds early in November to allow the plants time to mature before the first frost.

Plant one or two seeds ¼-inch deep, every 6 inches. Or, evenly broadcast the seeds over a small area and thin the seedlings to every 6 inches once they emerge.

Cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate a few days later. When the leaves are 6 inches long, begin to harvest them by cutting the outer leaves off at the base, leaving new leaves to grow.

Using this method, you can continuously harvest leaves all winter. Mustard greens will survive in temperatures down to about 25 degrees and, if covered with frost protection, can survive even lower temperatures.

Mustard seed is grown and cooked all over the world, but most notably in Central and Far East Asia. It is referenced in many religious texts and parables to tell the story of small beginnings being transformed into something magnificent.

This imagery is what prompted Kasey Diffie of Strive Farms to invite several women agriculturists to her new farm in East Austin to sow some of the first seeds of her farm under a new moon in late September.

As we gathered under the moonlight in this new teaching garden that she shares with Nicole Finkelstein of Herban Austin, she passed around a shallow bowl of Japanese giant red mustard seeds that we each carefully placed into a row of prepared soil as a blessing for the new farm. Those mustard seeds have now flourished into one of Strive Farms’ first crops.

Diffie started Strive Farms with the vision of it becoming a multiracial, multicultural collective that works toward healing the community by healing our connection to the Earth and to one another. She is taking this time to build what she likes to think is the foundation for a radical “garden fork rebellion.”

Diffie says she is remaining open to how Strive will become a community project as she’s leaving room for the collective to come together to create a bright, new future.

For now, find Strive Farm’s produce at Texas Farmers’ Markets and SFC Farmers’ Market along with her husband’s microgreens at Joe’s Organics.

The recipe below is a new favorite in our home. It’s an easy to make side dish that you can add to your dinner table all winter long. The coconut milk and tomatoes create a comforting curry-like sauce, and the zesty lime and salty peanuts add depth and crunch. You can even add turnip greens or collard greens to the mix. No bitterness here.

Mustard Greens Coconut Curry

1 bunch (about 1 pound) mustard greens

1 Tbsp. coconut oil plus 1 Tbsp. canola oil

½ tsp, chili flakes

2 cloves sliced garlic

½ Tbsp. coriander

1 Tbsp. ginger

1 cup full fat coconut milk

½ cup tomato sauce or diced tomatoes

½ tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. chopped toasted, salted peanuts

Squeeze of lime

Wash mustard greens really well then coarsely chop and separate stems.

In a large pan or wok over medium heat, add oils, chili flakes, garlic, coriander and ginger and saute until fragrant. Add mustard green stems and saute for 3-4 minutes until softened.

Add remaining chopped mustard green leaves, coconut milk and tomato sauce and stir to coat. Add salt.

Reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 3-4 minutes until the leaves are wilted. Using tongs, plate the wilted mustard greens on a large plate and pour the coconut milk sauce over top.

Top with chopped peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve hot.

Japanese giant red mustard greens are colorful to look at.