How Do You Grow and Use Asian Greens?

 

Many Asian vegetables grow best under milder conditions – not too hot or too cold, so autumn is a great time to grow these versatile and nutritious vegetables. Most of us think of Bok Choy or Pak Choi as being the main Asian vegetables but there are others that are also great to use in your everyday cooking – Wombok and Chinese Broccoli are just two. These are just as easy to grow – here is how we grow Asian vegetables in our gardens.

How To Grow

Wombok (Chinese cabbage), Bok Choy or Pak Choi.

  • Thrive in a fertile, medium textured, well-drained soil.
  • Prefer full sun.
  • Best grown in the cool season; ideal temperature for growth is 13-18°C
  • Can tolerate light frost.
  • Ideal pH is around 7 (neutral) – add some dolomite lime to the beds or plant them to follow a previous carrot crop (which was already limed).
  • Keep soil moist – all leafy vegetables need moisture to grow well and be sweet to taste.
  • Heavy feeders; requires plenty of nitrogen so prepare your soils well before hand adding lots of compost and manure as well as a handful per square metre of an organic pelletised fertiliser.

HINT: Never add lime and manures or fertiliser at the same time; the lime reacts with the nitrogen in the fertiliser or manures and turns it into a gas which then escapes into the air and is no longer available to your plants! Use dolomite instead – this is very slow acting and doesn’t react like garden lime does (making it a better option). Dolomite is a mix of calcium and magnesium and also reacts by reducing sodium in soils making it ideal for sodic clay soils too.

Planting
Wombok, Bok choy/Pak choi can be planted by direct seeding or transplanting, however transplanted seedlings can tend to ‘bolt’ (go to seed) so if possible direct sow, or sow seed into individual containers so that the roots are not disturbed when you transplant.

Pests and Diseases

  • Aphids, cabbage white butterfly you can just try to wash aphids off with a hose or use pyrethrum (but remember that this can kill or disturb beneficial insects too). The best way to avoid cabbage white butterfly is by using exclusion fabric – no chemicals and easy to do. Just make a tent over the top of you beds.
  • Downy mildew (Peronospora parasitica), powdery mildew (Erisyphe polygoni) and Leaf spot (Alternaria brassicae) – these are fungal diseases: Avoid excessive nitrogen which encourages these problems; humid weather encourages these diseases too so make sure that there is plenty of air movement around your plants. Try Eco-fungicide (available from Green Harvest) as an organic method of control. Make sure that you rotate your crops.
  • Rot (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) this is also a fungal disease and is most common in wet or waterlogged conditions – make sure that you plant in raise beds and that your soil is well-drained.

How To Make Them Last

  • Harvest when the heads are fully developed; typically matures 55-70 days after sowing.
  • Sow successively (small rows) throughout autumn to extend your harvest
  • Cut Wombok the heads off at ground level and remove the outer leaves. For Bok Choy/ Pak Choi you can harvest the outer leaves as you need them and leave the plant to grow on or you can wait until mature and cut off at ground level.
  • Chinese cabbage isn’t suitable for freezing so is best eaten fresh.

Cultivars


Chinese cabbage: ‘One Kilo Slow Bolt’.
Pak Choi 'Chokito', ‘Bok choy’, 'Red Choi'.


Chinese Broccoli (Gailon/Gailan or Kailaan)
Chinese broccoli is closely related to European cabbages and growing conditions are similar to common broccoli. It is a cool season crop but has some frost tolerance so is ideal for even cold climates however it can also be grown in temperate and tropical areas year round. In cold areas plant seedlings in mid to late autumn rather than seeds as these need warm soil temperatures to germinate.

How to Grow
Fertile soil with lots of compost and well decomposed animal manures and a few hands of blood and bone or similar ‘gentle’ fertilise is ideal for Chinese broccoli. A position sheltered from wind, but preferably in full sun, and soils that are moist but well-drained are ideal conditions.  Soil pH should be around 6.0 – 7.0. Use some dolomite to sweeten the soil if needed before planting.  

Planting
In temperate and warm areas you can sow direct where they are to grow in autumn. Sow the seed at .06mm deep and space the plants 8 – 12cm apart and the rows about 40cm.
In cool areas use seedlings you have grown in a greenhouse or other sheltered spot – they should be ready to transplant about 4 weeks after sowing. I prefer to use individual cells or small containers so the root system isn’t disturbed too much.

Problems

Pests are common to those found on the other Asian greens in this article and the same controls may be used.  

How To Make Them Last
Chinese broccoli is usually ready for harvest at about 60 days from sowing.  The flowering stems should have compact (not open) flower heads. Cut them off at about 15-20cms using a sharp knife. If you pick then often you can prevent them from bolting to seed – and you can then really extend your harvest too as it is possible to get three cuts from the one stem. If you make the first cut (i.e. the main stem) quite low, this encourages ‘sprouting and this generates your next harvest.
Once you do your first harvest give your plants a liquid feed – Seasol mixed with fish emulsion (e.g. Charlie Carp) is ideal. Repeat again after the 2nd harvest to encourage a further crop.
Chinese broccoli stores well in the fridge for a couple of weeks at 7-10°C. You can also blanch and freeze Chinese broccoli.

Cultivars/Varieties include:  Kailaan, Kailaan 'Kaliburi'


Ways To Enjoy Asian Greens
Asian greens can be enjoyed in a variety of ways – we all know about stir frying! But these vegetables can also be gently poached in a chicken stock along with a teaspoon of soy, some grated ginger, grated garlic, drain well and just finish off with a few drops of sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds – delicious!

A way you may not have thought of is to stir fry on your BBQ - most Asian greens are cooked quite quickly so you would need to watch that they don’t burn. Chinese broccoli is very useful on the BBQ because it retains its integrity very well; BBQ the broccoli along with some ginger and garlic and then serve.

Asian greens, oyster sauce, garlic and sesame seeds and oil are all best friends!
Whether you decide to steam, poach, stir fry or BBQ, topped with these ingredients you turn ordinary Chinese greens into a gourmet dish.

Wombok (finely sliced or shredded) also make a very nice coleslaw along with grated carrot, chopped spring onions, toasted sesame seeds and a sauce of combined olive oil (a couple of tablespoons) a teaspoon of soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil, the juice of half a lemon and a scant teaspoon of honey. Pour over the finely sliced vegetables and serve sprinkled with extra toasted sesame seeds.

Also use them in soups and noodles –this versatile group of greens adds nutrition and flavour to almost any dish.