San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mustard Greens Love the Tropics

When most folks hear the word mustard, chances are they think of yellow mustard that comes in a jar. Did you know the yellow color of mustard really comes from turmeric? The pungent flavor comes from the ground seeds of black mustard (Brassica nigra), a wild variety of mustard, which is grown commercially in North America and Europe just for making mustard for our sandwiches.

But today, I want to talk about mustard greens, or mostaza, as it’s known in Spanish, the hardiest of the greens for tropical gardens.

Mustard greens (Brassica juncea) are fastgrowing, annual plants that belong to the cabbage family. It’s not uncommon to harvest mustard greens in less than one month from planting the seeds – that’s about a third of the time it takes most garden vegetables to mature for picking.

Only radishes match this record, and, by the way, they make a great combo with mustard greens for tropical gardens in the hotter regions of the country.

Mustard greens are not only winners as fast-growing plants; they are also champions when it comes to nutrition, ranking as one of the richest vegetables in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A. One half-cup of cooked mustard greens provides 11,000 units of vitamin A, as well as 125 milligrams of vitamin C, 291 mg of calcium, 84 mg of phosphorus and 9 mg of iron.

The preparation of mustard greens is the secret to enjoying them at meals. There are several varieties of mustard greens. Tendergreen and purple mustard are very mild and can be eaten raw in salads, especially when chopped finely and mixed with other greens. Curly mustard is really hot, but can be tamed by steaming, or mixing it in omelets or stir-fries.

When planting mustard, I like to start the seeds in germination flats filled with prepared potting soil.When the seedlings reach about five centimeters tall, I transplant them to recycled cups filled with compost. In a week or so, once the young mustard plants are hardy, they’re transplanted to the garden.

Although mustard does well in average soils, additions of compost fertilizer can boost their growth remarkably. Mustard plants have few pests or diseases. An occasional infestation of aphids may occur, but these can be controlled with a spray of soapy water; be sure to use natural soap.

Mustard seeds are available in most agricultural supply stores around the country. Once you get them started in your garden, mustard plants will flower and produce new seeds for your next planting.


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