I’m a huge fan of Asian greens, vegetables like wombok (Chinese cabbage), pak choi (Chinese white cabbage), bok choy, tatsoi (Chinese flat cabbage) and kailan (Chinese broccoli, also spelled gai lan). They’re so good to have on hand for soups, salads, stir-fries or to simply steam and top with little drizzle oyster sauce and sesame oil. When they’re picked fresh from the garden, they’re something else… super crisp and packed with vitamins and minerals.
Asian greens are arguably one of the most rewarding groups of veg to grow. They don’t need much space, they’re great in pots, and most varieties will give you something to harvest in as little as 6 weeks from planting. They prefer cool to mild conditions. If you’re in a temperate zone, you can just about grow them all year round.
These plants are really easy to raise from seed, so they’re a good one to get your confidence up if you’ve never grown anything from seed before. Sow them directly into a garden bed or straight into large pots filled with potting mix and they come up in a matter of a few days without fail. Don’t over plant; it’s best to just sow a little patch every few weeks so that you can enjoy a steady supply of fresh young plants.
They don’t need as much sun as other edibles. If you can find a spot with 3-4 hours a day, you’re in business. They must have a fertile soil though… and fair enough… they give a lot in a short time… so work in plenty of compost and manure before planting… along with a good handful of organic fertiliser per square metre. If you’re growing in pots, try my supercharged potting mix recipe for great results. Good drainage is important, so mound your soil if your drainage is poor, and then rake the surface smooth ready for planting.
To sow, I press handle of my steel rake into the surface to make shallow grooves around 5mm deep and 200mm apart. Then just dribble the seed along the rows, cover them with a thin layer of soil and water them in gently. Keep the soil evenly moist and the seeds germinate in around 3-5 days. You can thin plants out as soon as the seedlings appear. These can be transplanted and grown elsewhere. Sometimes I just let them go and start thinning when they get to about 10cm tall. That’s just a good size to toss whole into a stir-fry. Aim to eventually space plants 200mm apart to grow full-sized plants.
Don’t let your plants dry out or they’ll become bitter and even bolt to seed prematurely… and for the quickest and most delicious returns, give them a gentle boost with diluted fish emulsion – about a tablespoon per 9-litre watering can – applied once a week. Pour it all over the leaves and surrounding soil. The plants will never look back.
Harvest young… if it looks big enough to eat, pick it. Baby Asian greens make excellent eating. Most reach their full size at around 8 weeks, after which they are beyond their peak so tuck in while they’re at their best. There’s an exception with wombok which needs about 12 weeks to develop a firm ‘head’ and tatsoi which can be treated as a ‘pick and come again crop’, much like open head lettuce varieties.
Keep an eye out for others that take a fancy to your greens. Snail and slugs are typical contenders… try beer traps or ‘pet-safe’ baits… and beware of caterpillars which can be controlled with bio-insecticides such as Dipel.