Some of the most productive plants I grow in my garden could be categorized as Asian greens. The simple abundance of harvesting the early leaf and stem portions of these vegetables provide a quick and nutritious harvest with minimal maintenance. As we grow into our lucrative spring season, take advantage of some of the easiest crops to produce on Earth.
Most Asian greens must be started from seeds instead of off-the-shelf transplants. Locating the seeds is a low hurdle to choosing many of these exotic plants. (I haven’t had much luck at nursery center seed racks.) An Internet search of seed catalogs will provide numerous options. Since purchasing seeds offers an incredible economy of scale over buying transplants, don’t skimp on trying a spectrum of varieties.
Starting the seeds requires a balanced mix of quality potting soil, clean containers, moisture, warmth and sunlight. Most Asian greens germinate in just a few days, so be prepared to deliver the new sprouts to full sun. Left in limited light, lanky, weak seedlings are prone to stem disease and damage. Provide fresh air and ventilation as a warm sunny day could lead to overheating. In three to four weeks most of these seedlings will be ready to grow in the great expanse of the garden.
Available soil fertility, moisture, pest controls, sunlight and space provided in almost any garden configuration is usually adequate. A 3-gallon landscape pot filled with well-drained potting mix supplies ample space for six transplants. A 4-foot square bed using grid pattern spacing produces dozens of heads. As the crop starts to mature, pick crowded ‘thinning greens’ for those gourmet baby vegetables that are so expensive in the grocery store.
Most Asian greens are in the Brassica family of plants, similar to radish or cabbage. I repeatedly plant Pac choi, a smaller variety of Bok choi. Another favorite is Mizuna, which produces a large quantity of fine, mild-flavored green or purple fern-like foliage. For edible flowers, try Hon Tsai Tai. Tatsoi is spoon shaped, quick to mature, but has a strong mustard flavor. Other names to mess with your spell-checker are Shungiku, Bekana, Komatsuna, Vit or Michilli.
Gather individual leaves and stems or harvest the whole head by cutting at ground level. Promptly rinse to avoid wilting. I graze fresh from my garden, taste testing to compare and contrast many of these unique flavors. The vitamin, fiber and mineral components of Asian greens are easily off the charts. I’ll leave it to you to research the myriad recipe and menu possibilities of one of the world’s most popular crops.
Tom Carey is the owner of Sundew Gardens, a you-pick gardening business in Oviedo. Visit the Sundew Gardens Facebook page.