Asian greens have recently become a favorite cool weather crop here at Happy Acres. I had grown pac choi and Chinese cabbage off and on for years, with varied success. But little did I know that beyond those two somewhat familiar plants were an unbelievable variety of vegetables I had never even heard of.
I got a hint of that when I started visiting a new Asian grocery in town. I found baby green stem pac chois there, along with other greens that looked vaguely like broccoli that had gone to flower. The owner of the store couldn’t give me an English name for some of them, but she told me how to cook them. We loved the flavors and textures.
I really started getting into growing them when I began trying to extend the season for fresh vegetables. Reading Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest helped me learn about how to grow a wider range of cold-tolerant crops, including Asian greens like pac choi and tatsoi. I would recommend the book to anyone looking to expand their growing season.
Then I found a great article about Asian greens in a back issue of the now defunct Kitchen Garden magazine. There I found photos of greens with exotic sounding (to me) names like Hon Tsai Tai, Mizuna, Komatsuna and Santoh. They looked so lush and yummy I wanted to try them all!
Well, I haven’t tried them all yet, but I’m working on it. Tatsoi, Komatsuna and pac chois of all colors and shapes are now regulars in our garden, and on our plate. I’ve also grown Mizuna, Mibuna, Choy Sum and Santoh. Baby Mizuna is a fairly common ingredients in salad mixes, and I discovered Choy Sum was one of the yellow flowered greens I had bought at the market.
I start most of my plants indoors, then set them out when space opens up. But many prefer to direct seed them right where they will grow. Either way works, so it is really a matter of personal preference.
Many of these vegetables can even be grown in summer, especially if bolt resistant varieties are selected. Black Summer, Fuyu Shomi and Shanghai pac chois stand up well in the heat. I’m still experimenting with others. Actually, we have so many other things growing in summer that I really don’t do as much with greens then, other than lettuce.
If you’ve never grown Asian greens, you may want to give them a try. Most are quick to mature and easy to grow. Who knows, you may get hooked just like I did!