Growing Chinese cabbage
Growing larger than most other Asian greens, Chinese—or Napa—cabbage (B. r. var. pekinensis) is a rewarding crop with cultivation guidelines all its own. First, timing is all-important. Start Chinese cabbage indoors around July 10 in Zone 5 or warmer gardens, 10 days earlier in Zones 3 and 4. Fill 10-centimetre pots with a fast-draining soil mix and drop three seeds into a shallow thumbprint in each container; cover with soil, add water and set them in a sunny window. As seedlings grow, thin to the strongest-looking one per pot and water as needed.
After three weeks indoors, gradually expose seedlings to outdoor conditions over a few days. Meanwhile, prepare individual planting spots 45 centimetres apart in a sunny bed. Dig out holes deep and wide enough to hold two double handfuls of fine compost; boost nutrients with a teaspoon (5 mL) of vegetable fertilizer and stir all together with the excavated soil—in essence, making a zone of fertility for each transplant. If insects appear, cover seedlings with a floating row cover or dust young plants (as directed) with fresh rotenone powder, a natural insecticide that will biodegrade long before you pick. As plants expand, mulch with compost, and water every fourth day, feeding once with fish emulsion after a month’s growth.
Chinese cabbage grows numerous leaves around an increasingly dense head. Don’t rush the harvest. When it plumps up, pull up a whole plant, cut away the roots and strip off the outer leaves—it may feel as if you’re throwing half in the compost—to reveal a clean, heavy head.
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