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Keen as Mustard: Growing Mustard Plants for Greens and Seeds

 
Photo by Adobe Stock/Peter Hermes Furian

Food history was made in ancient Rome when ingredients such as fish oil, vinegar, and grape juice were added to the seeds of the mustard plant, creating the condiment we know today as mustard. In fact, one of the first written recipes for mustard dates from the 4th century B.C.E. This beloved herb was widely grown throughout its native distribution in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

Nowadays, mustard is a condiment staple in most North American kitchens, right up there with ketchup and relish. Worldwide, we eat 700 million pounds of mustard every year!

Mustard is an extremely useful and versatile plant, grown for its seeds and greens. Whether you’re looking to jazz up your grilled food with a flavorful spread or enjoy the hot, spicy taste that the leaves bring to a salad, here are a few tips to grow this easy-care, fast-producing crop in your own garden.

Get to Know the Greens

Mustard is related to garden favorites such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, collards, turnips, arugula, and Brussels sprouts. Several types of mustard exist, including yellow mustard (Brassica hirta or Sinapis alba), brown mustard (B. juncea), and black mustard (B. nigra). “Asian mustard greens” is a more generalized term used to encompass many types of spicy greens.

Yellow mustard seeds are the main ingredient in the yellow condiment typically found in a squeeze bottle. When ground up, the seeds are useful as a powder added to stews, chilis, and salad dressings. Brown mustard is grown as an oilseed crop in some parts of the world, although it’s mostly used as a condiment or spice, while black mustard is a key component of Dijon mustard. Asian mustard greens are usually sown for their beautiful, intensely flavored leaves. Depending on the species, the leaves may be red, purple, green, or yellow, and they may be deeply serrated and frilly. Mustard greens are a healthful salad ingredient, full of large amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as fiber. Some mustard seeds can even be made into a specialized flour!

Brown and yellow mustard plants look similar, and both grow up to 45 inches tall. Small, bright-yellow, four-petaled flowers appear about six weeks after the plant emerges from the soil, and the blooming period lasts more than two weeks. Small, slender pods (less than 1 inch long) encapsulate the tiny, round tan or brown seeds.

If you decide to plant mustard for seed, bear in mind that in some areas, closely related mustard species, such as wild mustard (B. kaber), tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), and wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), are considered weeds, and your look-alike plants may not be welcomed by the neighbors — especially if you fail to collect the seeds on time and volunteers are released all over your garden and into adjacent yards. If you garden in a public space, such as a community garden, you most likely won’t be permitted to plant mustard for seed. This is one crop you need to stay on top of at harvest time so that you can collect the seeds before the pods burst and scatter them everywhere.

Spice Up the Garden

Mustard is a cool-weather plant that’ll bolt in hot weather. That’s OK if you’re growing it for seed, but not if you want to harvest leaves, which will become unpalatable if the plant is left to bolt. Too much heat will also diminish the number of seeds you may be able to harvest. Take a pause on growing mustard during the summer, and sow it in the cooler soils and temperatures of early spring or late autumn.

 

Photo by Adobe Stock/Brenda Rocha

Direct sowing is favorable, given the plant’s long tap root. Sow seeds about 3 to 5 inches apart, at a depth of approximately 1⁄2 inch. With limited space, mustard may be easily maintained for greens in containers on a balcony or deck. Seeds typically sprout in 5 to 10 days. Three weeks later, sow another crop to boost production before you break for the heat of summer. Like many other Brassica crops, sow mustard seeds up to three weeks before your region’s last frost date and harvest them for baby greens before the snow flies. It’s a great time to plant colorful, frilly types to add some beauty to the autumn landscape. And, of course, grow mustard indoors any time of the year if you’re set up for it.

Mustard is adaptable to many soil types, but it doesn’t fare well in boggy conditions or prolonged drought. Good drainage and an amendment of compost at sowing time are ideal. Although they can tolerate partial shade, mustards are best grown in full sun for optimum harvest. Maintain a consistent watering schedule if there’s insufficient rainfall; this is especially important if you want flavorful greens. There’s no need to add extra fertilizer if you’ve amended the soil with compost before planting. Be sure to keep up with weeding, as competition from other plants may diminish harvests. If you find you need to thin the seedlings, trim the roots away and throw the thinnings in a stir fry or sandwich.

Mustard Maintenance and Harvesting

Rotate mustard (and all Brassica crops) in the garden every year to help reduce the risk of diseases, such as leaf spots, downy mildew, and rust. Water from the base to minimize splash onto the foliage. Maintain sufficient spacing between plants to allow for air circulation.

 

Mustard greens come in a variety of beautiful shapes and colors. Photo by Adobe Stock/??????? ??????????

Flea beetles are probably the most significant insect pest of mustard. If you grow other Brassica plants, you may already recognize the signs that the beetles have made an appearance: The leaves will look like they’ve been shot full of tiny holes. This weakens the plants but doesn’t usually kill them unless they’re exposed to other adverse conditions, such as poor weather. What flea beetle damage can do, however, is make the leaves look so unsightly that no one will want to eat them. Using floating row covers to protect the plants, from seedling emergence to harvest, will help prevent beetle issues.

Harvest the seeds when the seed pods are dry and brown. The pods are dehiscent, which means they’ll shatter if they’re overripe. That’ll result in a loss of seed into the garden. Harvest the seed pods on a dry day. To ensure there’s no moisture left in the pods, allow them to dry on a flat screen or in a paper bag for about two weeks, and then remove the seeds and store them in an airtight container in a dark, dry location until you decide to use them in cooking. Don’t forget to put aside some seeds for sowing the next year!

If you’re growing mustard for greens, harvest them when they’re young and tender. Old leaves tend to become leathery and bitter. You can harvest via a cut-and-come again method and remove the outside leaves, allowing the center of the plant to continue to grow. Don’t remove more than 2⁄3 of the plant. Alternately, harvest the whole plant at once. If you don’t want to eat all the greens fresh, blanch and freeze them for later.

Enjoy your gardening and culinary adventures with mustard!  


Sheryl Normandeau is a Master Gardener and writer from Calgary, Alberta. While she grows mostly vegetables, she also plants perennial flowers and always has a few gardening projects in the works. Read more about her pursuits on her blog.


Mustard Selections

Frilled, Curly, or Serrated Leaf, (all Brassica juncea)

  • ‘Fordhook Fancy’
  • ‘Green Wave’
  • ‘Southern Giant Curled’
  • ‘Golden Frills’
  • ‘Scarlet Frills’
  • ‘Ruby Streaks’
  • ‘Wasabina’
  • ‘Red Splendor’
  • ‘Red Dragon’

Flat Leaf

  • B. juncea ‘Florida Broadleaf’
  • B. rapa var. perviridis ‘Tendergreen’
  • B. juncea ‘Garnet Giant’
  • B. juncea ‘Red Giant’
  • B. juncea ‘Amara’

Asian Mustard Greens

  • B. rapa subsp. narinosa ‘Tatsoi’
  • B. rapa var. niposinica ‘Mizuna’
  • B. rapa var. perviridis ‘Komatsuna’
  • B. rapa var. perviridis ‘Komatsuna Red’
  • B. juncea var. rugosa ‘Osaka Purple’
  • B. rapa var. chinensis ‘Tokyo Bekana’
  • B. rapa var. niposinica ‘Red Kyona’

Flowers appear about six weeks after the plant emerges from the soil, and the blooming period lasts more than two weeks. Small, slender pods (less than 1 inch long) encapsulate the tiny, round tan or brown seeds.

If you decide to plant mustard for seed, bear in mind that in some areas, closely related mustard species, such as wild mustard (B. kaber), tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), and wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), are considered weeds, and your look-alike plants may not be welcomed by the neighbors — especially if you fail to collect the seeds on time and volunteers are released all over your garden and into adjacent yards. If you garden in a public space, such as a community garden, you most likely won’t be permitted to plant mustard for seed. This is one crop you need to stay on top of at harvest time so that you can collect the seeds before the pods burst and scatter them everywhere.


Yellow and Brown Whole-Grain Mustard

Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

This recipe makes a small batch of mustard that can be stored in the fridge for up to one month.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and cover. Allow the mixture to sit in the refrigerator for 12 hours.

Place the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender, and pulse until the mustard seeds start to split open. The mixture will thicken. (If it gets too thick, add a bit more water.) Pour into containers and use immediately, or store in the refrigerator.


Mustard Sprouts

Here’s another way to enjoy growing and eating mustard: Sprout the seeds! This is a fun indoor project for any time of the year, but especially in winter, when you may be missing freshly grown food.

Start with a clean wide-mouth canning jar, and cut a piece of cheesecloth to serve as the lid. Place 2 tablespoons mustard seeds into the jar. Cover the jar with the cheesecloth, and fasten it with a rubber band.

Pour cold water over the seeds and rinse. Then add about 1 cup water to the jar, and allow the seeds and water to sit for about 8 hours. Rinse again and prop the jar upside down into a container so the water can drain.

The next day, rinse the seeds again, and allow the water to drain. Repeat this step until the sprouts are ready to eat, approximately 4 to 5 days. Mustard sprouts are small, so if you want to sprout more than 2 tablespoons at a time, feel free!

Published on Oct 6, 2020

Grit Magazine

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