Growing bok choi
Of all Asian greens, bok choi (Brassica rapa var. chinensis) may be the best for growing at home for the simple reason that it is so good to eat. Few vegetable dishes are as quick and easy to prepare, and as tasty, as fresh-picked bok choi stir-fried with garlic, ginger and a splash of soy sauce. Also known as bok choy, pak choi or wong bok, it grows into an open, vase-shaped plant of thick, succulent white stems and dark green, spoon-shaped leaves.
A true cool-weather crop, bok choi grows well in early spring (when seeded three weeks before your region’s frost-free date), but even better in September and October. Late August through early September is the time to sow seeds directly into a sunny, fertile spot that has been lightly dug over (these are shallow-rooted plants) and raked smooth. A 60- to 90-centimetre-wide bed, easy to tend from either side, is ideal for all the greens described here. With a little planning, bok choi, as well as the other Asian greens mentioned, could follow earlier plantings of past-their-best lettuce, peas or spinach.
To sow, using the corner of a hoe or rake, draw out a series of shallow furrows 20 centimetres apart across the bed. Drop in seeds one at a time, one to two centimetres apart (careful seeding makes for easier thinning later on), cover them with soil and water well. Insects that may be rampant in spring are usually less bothersome in late summer, but a floating row cover over the bed and anchored with anything heavy and handy—I use small flowerpots filled with dirt—will protect seedlings from potential menaces. As the young plants grow to touch one another, thin them first to five centimetres apart, then to 10, and finally to 20 centimetres. Water the bed every fourth day, right through the row cover, and feed the greens at mid-growth with a diluted fish emulsion or a sprinkling of granular vegetable fertilizer. Bok choi can be eaten at every stage, from baby greens to mature plants, so each thinning counts as a harvest.