For an easy to grow plant that is versatile in the kitchen, it’s hard to beat arugula. Even so, I have to admit I am a recent convert to the I Love Arugula fan club. But now that I have fallen in love with it, I am making up for lost time and growing as much of it as I can!
This pungent green was grown by the ancient Romans and Egyptians, who considered it an aphrodisiac, but it became popular in America only fairly recently. Arugula (Eruca sativa) is a member of the cabbage family and does best in cool weather. It is hardy enough to overwinter in zone 6 and higher. It has been growing all winter long here in a cold frame and our lightly heated greenhouse from transplants I set out back in mid-October.
Arugula plants can be started either by sowing the seed directly in the garden, or by transplants. Either way, the seed should be sown about 1/4″-1/2″ deep. Seedlings will emerge in 5-7 days. Arugula is quick to grow, and should be producing edible leaves in 4-5 weeks. Since plants are small and shallow rooted, arugula is excellent for growing in containers. I plant them about 2 or 3 inches apart, in a good potting soil that has a little compost mixed in. Arugula is not too picky about growing conditions, and any well-drained and slightly acidic (PH 6-7) soil will do.
The plants in the greenhouse are already starting to flower in late February. Flowering is influenced by long days and high temperatures, so it is likely that our recent spell of warm weather triggered the flower formation. Since the leaves get stronger tasting then, the flower buds are a sign it’s time to plant some fresh plants. All is not lost though as the flowers themselves are edible too.
In the kitchen, we love the peppery taste of arugula in salads and on pizzas. We also like to make pesto with it, and it can be used in pasta dishes. For something really out of the ordinary, try it in a Green Smoothie. Different selections of arugula seem to have subtle differences in taste, with some being milder and others stronger. My plan is to find a strain that we like, and save seed from it.
Arugula does have a wild relative, called Sylvetta (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) that has an even more pungent taste than regular arugula, and is also a little hardier.
With a small amount of effort, we’ll have arugula growing here for about 8-9 months of the year. The season here is roughly from September through May, or until the heat of summer makes the leaves tough and bitter tasting. Then we’ll give it the summer off, and sow more seeds when the weather gets cooler for fall and winter harvests.
If you haven’t grown arugula before, you might want to give it a try. Who knows, you might turn out to be wild about arugula too!