Collards, or collard greens, are essentially open-headed cabbages (Brassica oleracea), with broad, smooth, almost waxy (and sometimes glossy) leaves that vary from green to blue-green to green-purple. While they have long been and remain closely associated with Black culture in the US — a staple green in traditional Southern Black foodways, and consequently popular in Black communities across the country — the plant actually has its origins in Europe and the Mediterranean. It is generally considered the most cold-hardy of the cabbages (which also include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi).
In 2020, The Utopian Seed Project (founded and run by our friend Chris Smith) grew 21 collard varieties as part of a nationwide collard trial for The Heirloom Collard Project. Eight other sites each grew the same 20 varieties. (Chris and team also grew the variety 'Lottie', bringing their heirloom total to 21.) The project is working with a large collection of heirloom collard varieties collected across the southeast during a number of plant collecting trips in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s a multi-organization collaboration with partners across the USA, including our legendary friend and colleague Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange — and "godmother" of the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance.
During the winter of 2020, collards at The Utopian Seed Project grow-out in North Carolina (at Franny's Farm in Leicester) survived lows of 8°F. Seeds were collected from the surviving plants in spring/summer 2021. Collards are obligate outcrossers, meaning they are incapable of self-pollinating. For saving seeds of pure varieties, this means large isolation distances. However, if your aim is large genetic diversity, then the collard plant is a willing collaborator. The 21 varieties were planted in a randomized two-block design, so we can be assured that there was a high degree of inter-variety cross pollination. These seeds represent massive genetic diversity, firstly because the original heirloom collards are genetically diverse, and secondly because they’ve cross pollinated with each other. Our friend Melony Edwards, a collard grower, Heirloom Collard Project participant, and Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance member, described them as an "ultracross": this is not a technical term (that would be "composite cross"), but Chris and the team likewise think "Ultracross Collards" captures the spirit of these amazing plants!
Included in the population are the following varieties: William Moore, Fulton Stroud, Tabitha Dykes, Fuzzy’s Cabbage Collard, E.B. Paul, Jernigan Yellow Cabbage Collard, Yellow Cabbage Collard, Georgia, White Cabbage Collard, Willis Collard Greens, Ole Timey Blue, Georgia Blue Stem, North Carolina Yellow, McCormack's Green Glaze, White Mountain Cabbage Collard, Green Glaze, Miss Annie Pearl Counselman, Brickhouse Old Collard, Lottie Collard, Vates, Georgia Southern.
These varieties were distributed in 2021 as part of a Community Seed Selection project run by The Utopian Seed Project — you can learn more about it here.
We intend this mix of collards to be planted and enjoyed by a wide range of people. Perhaps you are an adventurous home gardener with limited space and really want the chance to have every seed you plant produce something different. Perhaps you're a northern grower who struggles to overwinter collards for seed saving or spring harvest — this mix represents a great chance to plant out a large quantity of different genetics and save seeds from the survivors. Along the same lines, you could select for purple leaves, or curly leaves, or late bolting. The genetics of these seeds will continue to shift and change over time — and it's well worth noting that since these seeds represent the F1 generation of a large-scale composite cross, even more genetic variation will appear in the F2 generation (from the seeds you save this year). If your aim is to stabilize a single variety then you are embarking on a multi-year project. Where each and every one of you take this collard population is only limited by your imagination and we encourage you to select and save seeds based on your own needs and wants — but even just saving seeds from the best plants will begin the process of regional adaptation, and preserving diversity will support the climate resilience of this crop.
Note: By purchasing these seeds, you agree to never attempt to patent or otherwise restrict the use of these seeds or their descendants.