Most veggie gardeners grow lettuce, spinach, and perhaps chard, kale or collard greens. Some are familiar with bok choy (spelled a dozen different ways). It’s the adventurous gardeners, or those from overseas, who include veggies such as Mizuna, Salt Wort, Fun Jen, or Yu Choi Sum.
Since we used to live in Cupertino, California, where my local grocery store was Tin Tin #2, and the closest restaurant served the most incredible mu shu pork and lettuce wrapped chicken, it was only natural that I included some Asian imports in my garden as well.
I admit to having western taste buds, so what I recommend might seem all wrong to someone used to more exotic flavors. However, I like what I like. Maybe you will too.
You’ve seen these coarsely serrated leaves in spring salad mix, but I bet you didn’t know they’re incredibly easy to grow. A few plants will keep you stocked for months. Succession planting will take you through the summer. Start new seedlings about once a month. When the older plants begin to develop a stronger flavor, yank them out and start over. (My chickens aren’t fussy; they quickly gobble down the spent plants!)
I’ve always grown Kyoto Mizuna, because that’s the variety Pinetree Seeds carries, and I usually order from them. Park Seed carries Mizuna Early, claiming it tolerates both heat and cold, although mizuna is cold hardy and slow to bolt anyway. I’d love to hear what your experiences have been with this crop.
Regular bok choy plants are perfectly tasty, but it’s hard to use an entire plant at once. Baby bok choy has the same yummy flavor, but is more tender, matures faster, plus you won’t have half the plant slowly losing its sugar content is the crisper.
Like other members of the cabbage/mustard family, bok choy prefers cool temperatures and tends to bolt fairly easily. Here in Colorado you can rush a crop in the spring, but the best results come from a mid-summer seeding and fall harvest.
As to varieties, I have enjoyed “Brisk Green” which grows from six to eight inches high (smaller than the big varieties, but bigger than the baby ones). My favorite miniature variety is Pak Choi Toy Choi from Park Seeds.
And finally, if you have chickens, grow them some “Komatsuna Mustard Spinach” (Pinetree Seeds). It’s intended for human consumption, but I didn’t care for the flavor. However, the plants get absolutely huge, and they re-grow incredibly fast. Four plants are plenty—you can cut an armful of leaves for your hens every week, and they’ll love you for it. The dark green leaves produce dark yellow yolks, full of flavor and nutrients. For only $1.25 per packet (from Pinetree Seeds), you can’t go wrong.
I’ve tried a variety of other Asian greens, and there are dozens more waiting their turn. Some—Napa cabbage comes to mind—didn’t do well in our freezing-to-hot spring weather. I should try growing them as a fall crop. In the case of some others, such as tatsoi, I just didn’t like the flavor.
What Asian vegetables have you tried? Any you’d recommend? We love stir-frys for dinner, and I’m always willing to experiment with something new!