Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fast-Growing Greens

62 Pak Choy Seedlings
I like things that are easy.  When it comes to the garden, carrots are easy. And green beans – those are not only easy, but downright pleasurable – a five-gallon bucket of them to string and snap gives me a good excuse to watch TV for a couple of hours. J But if I want not only easy, but fast, convenient and delicious, the little Asian greens are the way to go.

Willhite Seed, just down the road from me in Poolville, carries three different types of the fast-growing Asian greens: Pak Choy, Tatsoi (Taht Soi) and Mizuna. A full ounce of seed runs less than $5, which gives me monthly rotational plantings for several years. In North Texas, we can set them out as early as mid-February, though a severe freeze may cause them to bolt (go to seed). The Tatsoi seems to handle cold weather best and I’ve started them as late as October and harvested well into winter. They will all have the best flavor grown in cooler weather, but can be grown thru the summer as well.

These little greens are related to mustards but they’re very mild in flavor. They are all good stir-fried or simply cooked with a little onion in some olive oil. (Or with some salt pork or bacon, like collard greens.) I like to use the Pak Choy chopped in spring rolls. The Mizuna has delicate, feathery greens that are good raw or in a mesclun salad mix.

This morning I set out the flat of Pak Choy I started 3 weeks ago. Just look at the size of them already – that’s a LOT of growth for a 3-week-old plant. In the garden, I plant them intensively, meaning I set them out every 4 inches in rows only 6 inches apart. In a 4-foot bed, 60 plants (one flat) only take up about 4 linear feet of bed space, or 16 square feet. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, especially considering they’re ready to harvest in about another month, freeing that space up for something else.

Newly Transplanted Seedlings Awaiting Mulch
I notice the bugs are already chewing on this batch. I haven’t even looked to see what’s doing the damage, but a hand-sprayer with some organic pyrethrum/rotenone always controls the little buggers. Be especially mindful of Harlequin bugs during really warm weather – they love plants from the brassica family and can wipe out a planting of greens in a day or two. The caterpillars of Cabbage loopers are also fond of them.

The little greens are not heavy feeders (compared to cabbage or peppers, for instance), but they grow quickest with plenty of water and lots of organic matter worked into the soil or regular doses of fish emulsion. Like all mustards (and most members of the brassica family) they go to seed quickly after they mature and must all be harvested at once just as soon as a flower stalk appears on the first plant. They keep for several weeks in the fridge, if they last that long!

Freshly-Harvested Pak Choys
(There are a few more seed companies with a good variety of Asian greens, notably: Baker’s Creek, Kitazawa Seed Company, Pinetree & Johnny’s Selected Seed.)

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