I once had a farm neighbour, a meat-and-potatoes man, whose taste in vegetables stretched from carrots to turnips with a stop at onions (fried) along the way. Cabbage (boiled) was permissible, but broccoli was suspect as being too green. What old Ed would have made of white radishes as big as your forearm, fuzzy gourds or a plate of baby bok choi, all common in Asian cuisine, is anyone’s guess.
The world of Asian vegetables is vast and varied, and many can be grown at home. But for the effort expended, it may be the greens that give the best return. Steamed, braised, stir-fried or added to soups, dark leafy greens are mainstays of Asian cooking. Almost all are members of the cabbage family, a group that includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, rapini, radish and turnip.
Greens to grow
Bok choi ‘Joy Choi’ (also called ‘Joi Choi’) has white stems and dark green leaves, while ‘Mei Qing Choi’ is uniformly pale green. Both are widely available. For delicious baby bok choi, grow ‘Toy Choi’ in rows 10 centimetres apart, and thin the plants to the same distance.
Depending on the variety, Chinese cabbage may be tall and cylindrical or squat and barrel-shaped. Tall types include ‘Jade Pagoda’, ‘Michihili’ and ‘Monument’; barrel-shaped heads, which keep up to a month in a cold place, include ‘Blues’, ‘China Express’ and ‘Jazz’.
For Chinese mustard, look for ‘Giant Red’, ‘Southern Giant Curled’ and ‘Tendergreen’.
Green cabbageworms or other caterpillars may attack your brassicas. Keep them clean with the bacterial insecticide BtK, a concentrated liquid mixed fresh according to directions and sprayed at the first sign of chewing. If earwigs appear, spray with insecticidal soap or use dishwashing liquid (one teaspoon per litre of water)—but you have to hit them directly, and that means a trip into the garden with a flashlight after dark.