Bok choy leaves, which prefer cool weather, may turn bitter in summer, says Thilaka Baskaran
Most gardeners in India are acquainted with crops of the brassica family such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. One grows these with some difficulty. However, not many of us are aware of a diverse group of Asian cabbages that are easy to grow and have a relatively short growing season.
Brassica rapa, popularly known as Chinese cabbage has two distinct varieties — the compact headed one with broad green leaves and white petioles tightly wrapped in a cylindrical formation and the second variety which does not form heads. These have smooth dark leaves forming a cluster with succulent white stems.
Now is a good time
Bok choy belongs to this group. This is a popular vegetable in all the countries that have a Chinese population and is available in most supermarkets in the west. In India too, some supermarkets stock them now for a price. It is quite easy to grow this exotic sounding plant.
Bok choy prefers a cool weather and July is a good time to start. In summer, the plant bolts or goes into seed very quickly and this can change the taste of the leaves, making them bitter.
Bok choy thrives in well-drained fertile soil, rich in organic matter. Incorporate plenty of compost into the soil before you plant. The seeds should be sown in rows, with 30 to 40 cm between seeds and 20 to 30 cm between rows.
You may need less distance between the plants if you plan to harvest the leaves young. Thin out seedlings when they are about 10 cm high and keep the soil moist, particularly in dry weather.
The leaves will be ready for harvesting in six weeks. Individual leaves can be harvested at any stage of growth. You can cut the outer leaves from several plants or harvest a single plant by cutting with a sharp knife, approximately three cm above the ground.
Bok choy will reshoot once or twice if fertilized and cared for well. It is easy to grow bok choy in containers and window boxes since it is shallow rooted.
The common pests that attack bok choy are slugs and aphids. Slugs scan be repelled by sprinkling coffee dregs around the plants; neem oil and soap spray can take care of aphids. Strong smelling herbs like rosemary, peppermint, sage and plants like marigold can be grown around to keep off insects.
Versatile in the kitchen
Bok choy is low in calories and rich in vitamin A and C, foliate calcium, iron and fibre. It lends itself to a variety of cooking methods.
The Chinese use it in soups, stir-fried dishes, salads and with noodles. It can be cooked in all the different ways in which any green leafy vegetable is prepared in India.