Listen to this podcast and read more about growing and caring for Asian Greens in the vegetable garden.
Asian greens (Brassica rapa, B. juncea) used to be thought of as just bok choi. However, with the advent of interest in Asian cuisine, people are growing a wide variety of Asian greens with flavors from mild to spicy. Leaf colors range from purple leaved mustards to the white-ribbed Komatsuna. The leaf shapes can be flat and spoon-shaped, long and round, or thin and serrated.
I like mixing young or baby Asian greens with milder flavored greens to add a little zip to salads. Try using them in soups and sautes, too. I love stir frying up some bok choi with garlic and soy sauce tossed over soba noodles. These greens are easy to grow, love the cool weather, and grow in small spaces. They’re perfect for a Northeast gardener.
When to Plant
Direct sow seeds in early spring, April to early-May, two weeks before your last frost. Plant small patches of greens every two weeks until early summer for a succession of harvests. Sow another crop in late summer for a fall harvest. Greens maturing during cool weather will be tender and mild flavored. Greens maturing in the heat can turn spicy and tough textured.
Where to Plant
Asian greens grow best in well-drained soil. They don’t need full sun to thrive. Quick maturing greens, such as mizuna, can grow with as little as 2- to 3-hours of direct sun a day. Longer maturing greens, such as bok choi, need more light. Plant in raised beds or containers.
How to Plant
Sow seeds 1/4-inch deep and about 1-inch apart with in rows or broadcast evenly over a raised bed. Thin plants to 6- to 12-inches apart once they germinate if growing them to full size. Keep the spacing closer for smaller greens, such as shungiku, and further apart for larger greens, such as mustard. Eat the thinnings as baby greens in salads.
Care and Maintenance
Asian greens grow best on evenly moist and well weeded soil. Fertilize young seedlings once they germinate with fish emulsion to encourage more growth. Mulch plants with straw or untreated grass clippings after the plants are established to prevent weed growth and keep the soil cool and moist.
Protect young leaves from flea beetles by growing arugula under a floating row cover. Flea beetles are small black insects that eat shotgun-like holes in leaves. These row covers let air, light, and water in, by keep the flea beetles away from the leaves.
Start harvesting baby Asian greens for salads 20 days after sowing seeds. Allow larger-sized Asian greens, such as tatsoi and bok choi, to mature in 40 days to full size for use in cooking. Cut tender greens with scissors just above the ground and allow them to regrow. Pull to harvest large mature plants.
There are a number of different Asian greens to grow in the garden. ‘Mizuna’ features pencil-thin stalks on deeply serrated light green leaves. There is also a purple-leafed version available. This mild flavored green is often mixed in salads. ‘Komatsuna’ is a heat tolerant green with juicy, white leaf ribs. There is a purple version also available. ‘Shungiku’, or edible chrysanthemum, has serrated 4- to 8-inch long leaves and edible yellow or orange flowers. ‘Osaka Purple’ mustard grow up to 2 -feet tall with large, purple-colored spicy leaves. It’s great picked as a baby green for salads. ‘Tatsoi’ forms a pretty rosette of spoon-shaped, dark green leaves.
Text excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.
When I say I’m growing Asian greens, many gardeners automatically think of Chinese cabbage or bok choi. But there are many other unusual Asian greens that add spice and visual interest to a salad or stir fry. I’ve grown many of these over the years and here are some of my favorites that may be worth a try in your garden this spring.
Mizuna is a deeply serrated leafy green that comes in green and purple leaves depending on the variety. This mild flavored mustard green is great in salads and it regrows from cutting so you’ll get a few harvests from each plant. Tatsoi has unique spoon-like leaves arranged in a 6-inch diameter rosette. The leaves are dark green and thick. They’re great in stir fries. Shungiku or edible chrysanthemum is a low growing green that is harvested when young for use in salads, and for making pickles and sushi. It has a mild, zesty flavor and a pleasant aroma. The plants even produce small yellow flowers if left unharvested.
There are also a number of beautiful and spicy mustard varieties. I like ‘Red Giant’ for the red tinged, large leaves and zippy flavor. ‘Osaka Purple’ has large, purple pungent leaves that add color to stir fries.
Whatever the Asian green to choose to grow, plant them in spring or late summer. These greens mature quickly within a month or so and taste and grow best in cooler weather. If your greens are very spicy it’s probably due to stress from hot weather, too little water or overcrowding in the bed. Watch from aphids and spray them off with a hose. Flea beetles can be controlled with sprays of diatomaceous earth. Harvest these greens on the young side for a more tender leaf texture.