Mustard: Direct Sow Vegetable
How to Sow
- For optimum flavor, grow in cool weather.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Sow in average well-worked soil in full sun. Do not plant where members of the cabbage family were planted in the past two years. Plant in early spring and again in midsummer for a fall crop.
- In rows 24 inches apart, sow seeds evenly and cover with ½ inch fine soil. Firm lightly and water gently.
- Seedlings emerge in 10-21 days depending on soil and weather conditions.
- For continuous harvest, sow every 14 days until the weather becomes hot.
- Thin gradually to stand 12 inches apart starting when seedlings are about 1-2 inches high.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. Avoid disturbing the soil around the plants when weeding.
- Keep plants well watered during dry periods to promote rapid, uninterrupted growth. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Harvest young foliage when it reaches 6-8 inches long, about 45 days after sowing.
- Pick the lower leaves or harvest the entire plant at once before the foliage becomes too tough.
- For a fall harvest, pick after a light frost as the frost improves the flavor.
- Stop picking once plants flower as the leaves will become bitter-tasting. Flowers are also edible.
- Mustard is great for salads or as cooked greens. You can also boil or sauté the foliage.
- Refrigerate the harvest to preserve until used.
- You can also blanch and freeze the leaves. They may also be pickled.
Common Disease Problems
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to grey centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Bacterial Leaf Spot: This causes brown water soaked spots on the foliage which eventually makes the foliage turn yellow. It thrives in cooler temperatures. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants. Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Do not work around plants when they are wet.
Black Rot: This bacterial disease thrives in warm and humid conditions and attacks the leaves. Yellow-orange V shaped lesions occur on the edges of the leaves and eventually dry out and the leaves fall. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet. Control weeds where the disease can overwinter.
Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water & rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.
Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish grey patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Cabbage Looper: These worms are green with a white stripe on either side, about 1-1.5 inches long and feed on the foliage. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick. Floating row covers can help prevent their laying eggs on the plants.
Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.
Leafminers: These insects bore just under the leaf surface causing irregular serpentine lines. The larvae are yellow cylindrical maggots and the adults are small black and yellow flies. They do not usually kill plants, but disfigure the foliage. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected foliage.
Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.
Can I grow mustard in a container? Yes. Be sure to use a commercial container mix rather than garden soil.
Why did my mustard produce a flower stalk? Mustard will bolt, or produce a flower stalk, when the temperatures rise quickly in summer. At this point pull the plants from the ground.
Can mustard tolerate frost? Yes mustard can tolerate a light frost and the flavor can actually be improved with a light frost.
Should I eat mustard cooked or raw? Mustard may be chopped and used in salads. They may be sautéed, braised, added to soups and stocks.
Can I use mustard greens to make my own mustard? The condiment mustard is made with the ground seeds rather than the greens of the mustard plant.