by SCMG Stephanie Wrightson
If you are feeling like me after a disappointing tomato season, you’re ready for a successful fall harvest. How about Asian greens? Here’s why:
- They are easy-to-grow, cool weather vegetables high in nutrition and fiber and low in calories.
- Soil is summer-warmed and will reward you with sprouts shortly after sowing the seeds.
- You can eliminate regular irrigation once the rains come.
- You don’t need to worry about spacing for smaller greens as you will thin as you harvest; thick sowing provides more greens and fewer weeds.
- Leafy greens are “cut-and-come-again” crops; the plant continues to grow.
- Few garden pests are a problem in fall.
- Asian greens come in a rainbow of colors; use them as eye-catching interest in your garden.
- Asian greens add spicy and aromatic taste and aroma to your meals.
If you want bok choy and other greens that require longer cultivation than “leafy” greens, look for transplants at your local nursery as it is a bit late for seeding these vegetables in November. When planting from seed, follow the directions on packets for depth (usually 1/4- to 1/2-inch), but don’t worry about spacing if you will be thinning-as-you-eat. Some crops, like cabbages, require proper spacing to avoid bottom rot; refer to the Sonoma County Master Gardener Vegetable Planting Summary.
Asian greens include the following and are known by alternate plant names in different Asian cultures:
- BOK CHOY (or CHOI), Brassica rapa var. chinensis: A non-heading Chinese cabbage with several thick white leafstalks. Also called pak choy (or choi), pei tsai or chongee. Parts used/eaten: leaves and stems in stir fry, soups, salads and noodle dishes. Bigger is not better; the small (‘Mei Qing Choi’ which tolerates a variety of temperature), baby (‘Shanghai’) or ‘Extra Dwarf Pak Choy’ are tender and tasty. ‘Joi Choy’ tolerates a variety of temperatures.
- CHINESE KALE, Brassica oleracea acephala: Similar to broccoli but with smaller stems and flowers, and sweeter and more tender. Also called gailon, gai lan or Chinese broccoli. Parts used/eaten: stems, unopened flowers; in stir fry.
- CHINESE PARSLEY, Coriander sativum: Also called cilantro. Parts used/eaten: leaves; as a flavoring.
- CHRYSANTHEMUM GREENS, Chrysanthemum coronarium: Spicy, sweet, aromatic taste; different from ornamental chrysanthemums. Also called chop suey greens, tong ho or garland chrysanthemum. Parts used/eaten: leaves in stir fries, soups, salads; flowers in salads and petals garnish soups.
- GARLIC CHIVES, Allium tubersoum: Also called Chinese chives. Multiple year production; clump from bulbs. Parts used/eaten: leaves (and flowers in summer) have a mild garlic taste; used fresh like common chives.
- KOMATSUNA, Brassica rapa var. perviridis or komatsuna: A Japanese green with a mild flavor between spinach and Asian mustard. Also called spinach mustard. Parts used/eaten: leaves, flower shoots; in salad, soups or stir fry. Leave are used like spinach in early stages; like cabbage in later stages. ‘Green Boy Hybrid’ has a greater tolerance for cold temperatures of milder climates.
- MISOME, Brassica narinosa or Brassica rapa var. rosularis: A hybrid cross between komatsuna and tatsoi that grows upright. Parts used/eaten: leaves; in stir fry, salad and pickling.
- MIZUNA, Brassica rapa nipposinica or japonica: A mild mustard green with upright growth up to one foot tall; heat and cold (to 40ºF) tolerant. Also called kyona and shui cai. Parts eaten/used: leaves; cooked like spinach (older leaves) or raw on sandwiches and in salads (young, tender leaves).
- MUSTARD GREENS, Brassica juncea: Spicy, Dijon mustard flavor; the most pungent of the Asian greens. Also called kai (or gai) choy or takana (‘Takana’ is also the name of a red and green leaved variety; other varieties include ‘Osaka Purple’ and ‘Giant Red’). Some frost tolerance. Parts used/eaten: 1-3” leaves in salads; 3-6” leaves in stir fry; largest leaves steamed, in soups or pickled. [See Mizuna, a milder mustard green.]
- NAPA CABBAGE, Brassica rapa var. pekinensis or B. campestris: a broad-leafed, compact-heading Chinese cabbage. Also called wong bok, pai-tsai or hakusai. Parts used/eaten: leaves; milder than common cabbage; raw in salads; cooked in soups, egg rolls, stir fry, etc.; pickled.
- TATSOI, Brassica rapa: Also called rosette bok choy or spoon cabbage. Parts used/eaten: leaves for salads, soups; mild, sweet cabbage-like flavor. One of the most cold-tolerant (to 20ºF); flat rosette form about 8 inches across. ‘Red Violet Tatsoi’ and ‘Tatsoi Savoy’ tolerate colder climates.
A test conducted by the California Organic Garden Association at the Fullerton Arboretum found top performing Asian greens included giant red mustard, mizura, mei qing choi, and tatsoi. These were easy to grow and rarely bothered by pests.
Renee’s Garden offers a stir fry mix of leafy Asian greens: red mustard, mizspoona (a cold-hardy mustard green), pak choy and Asian red kale. Baker’s Creek offers a Siamese Dragon Stir fry mix of Asian greens used in Thailand for stir frying and steaming, or for picking in the “baby stage” for salads. Kitazawa Seed Company in Oakland sells a number specialty gardens including a stir fry garden mix (sugar snow peas, Chinese mustard, Japanese green onion, two varieties of pak choy, Chinese broccoli, and komatsuna) and an Asian salad garden mix (Chinese cabbage, misome, mizuna, red mustard, chrysanthemum greens, tatsoi, and diakon sprouts).
Many local nurseries in Sonoma County carry Asian greens. In addition, you can visit the Baker Creek Seed Bank in Petaluma or order seeds online from a number of seed companies. Some catalogs list their Asian greens under Oriental or Chinese greens or Chinese leaves.
To harvest, cut leaves about one inch above ground to encourage fresh growth or cut outer leaves of loose heading cabbages like bok choy. Remember that the bulk of leafy greens will be reduced to one-fourth when cooked. Try to cut just what you need; most Asian greens and Chinese cabbages have a short shelf life (two to several weeks at the proper temperature and relative humidity).