Tag Archives: pak choi

Pak Choi Blooming Signals End to Spring

pak choi flowersWell I guess spring is over; the pak choi is blooming (or bolting as we gardeners say). I barely got to eat any, we have had so much rain here in Virginia.  I grow pak choi every spring. It is easy to start by direct sowing seed early in March but it bolts so quickly that harvesting in April and May must be a priority.  The stems and leaves taste good raw in salads or cooked, such as stir-fry. The flowers are a pretty yellow with four petals. Pak choi is a member of the cabbage or “Cruciferae” family, which is Latin for cross-bearing so all flowers in the family have the cross-shaped four petals and most are yellow colored. This one, Brassica rapa, is similar to bok choi, a type of Chinese cabbage, but smaller and milder to me.

Gardening is a lot like a play. There are several acts, each with its own set of actors entering the stage to give their performance and exiting to allow others the limelight. I am busy now helping other characters get ready for their scene that I let pak choi flower (eating now would be too bitter). In a month, during Act II, I will pull them out, save the seed, and replace with a mid-summer night’s dream.pak choi

Giving Thanks for Lessons Learned During 2014 Gardening Season

As Thanksgiving approaches and the 2014 gardening season ends, I am thankful that I have been able to 1) garden this year; and 2) harvest and cook new veggies that my family enjoyed. I don’t take gardening for granted. I am lucky I have the physical health, the space, and the time to be able to garden. I also believe that gardening is a process; the garden as well as the gardener continues to evolve.  Growing, harvesting, and cooking edibles is an even more complex process because the critters want the harvest just as much as you do. When you spend months growing veggies for your family, warding off deer and aphids, you have made a positive impact on everyone’s health. Plus, when your son helps you set up a compost pile or your daughter enjoys making kale chips, you know you have instilled valuable memories and a better understanding of nature. Despite a successful gardening year, I have a few “lessons learned” from my Northern Virginia garden that may help others in my neighborhood.

Alpine strawberry: Learned that if you grow from seed, in addition to buying plants, you will greatly expand your palette of edibles that grow successfully in your garden. Alpine strawberries are great plants, easy to grow from seed, but you won’t find the strawberries in stores or the plants for sale in nurseries (the fruit is too small and delicate to ship). I started my seed in the spring and by mid-November, I was still harvesting the small, delicate fruit.

Beans: Learned that beans germinate so quickly and the plants are so easy to grow, they are great kid plants. Beans keep on producing beans all summer long. Even if something eats the leaves, the plants come back. Although I prefer pole beans for extended harvest and vertical lines, I could also grow a bush bean plant in a large container surrounded by other colorful edibles for a “patio garden.”tomatofaceJuly2014 023

Eggplant: Learned that if you grow it, they will come. I have never seen flea beetles until I grew eggplants.  Learned to plant the transplants later, when more mature, and to use Surround next time, which will coat the plants with kaolin (a fine clay based product). Also learned that eggplants seem to be more drought resistant than other veggies, they do not need to be watered as often.

Goji plants:  Learned that once you have one goji plant, you will always have a goji plant. Goji plants root from roots. If you dig up one plant to place elsewhere and you accidentally leave roots behind, you may find new goji plants. Not that this is a bad thing, I like to eat the small red fruits which are a great source of antioxidants.

Kale: Learned the importance of organic methods. Kale is easy to grow but attracts several different kind of bugs in our area so if you can imagine a farmer growing kale and having to battle these pests on a large scale, you would want he or she to use organic practices instead of chemical sprays.  Learned that kids love kale chips and I love to add this healthy green in soups and stews.

Lemon cucumbers: Learned that lemon cucumbers are tasty, easy to grow, and prolific. For once, I did not have a problem with bitterness. Learned that kids like novelty, in fact, was able to give away to friends who also thought they were great! Learned that they are so prolific, they need a heavy trellis to lean on or will drape over my tomatoes and peppers.SmithsonianAugust2014 089

Lemon grass: Learned that I could get edibles from Asian markets for a fraction of the cost. My lemon grass plant came from stalks bought at the Asian market, which I rooted in soil. I also learned that once the plants are established, I can pull off a stalk, root it in water/soil, and start a new plant (great gifts for friends). I learned, through YouTube, how to harvest the stalks for cooking and how to dry them to make herbal tea.

Lettuce:  Learned that I need to buy different varieties, those that can take cool weather and those that can adapted to heat so can grow continuously from spring through fall. Also learned that our family prefers the cut and come again sweet lettuce. Lettuce is one of the easiest edibles to grow, in a shallow container or in a bed, but it is important to keep sowing to have new, young leaves that are not bitter or that will not bolt.

Pak choi: Learned that pak choi is another fast germinator and easy to direct seed if have cool weather. Like lettuce, need to have enough seed to sow several times, because I use it a lot in cooking. Although it can be grown in a container I use too much so I grow it in the front garden bed and so far, no pests or disease.

Peppers: Learned that pepper seeds are difficult to germinate or conversely, I don’t have patience.  But I also learned that once I can get them to germinate and transplanted in the garden, I can harvest peppers up until frost. They seem to perk up in the fall and produce even more peppers.

Pineapple sage: Learned that even though this is a tropical plant that does not overwinter here in Virginia, it does not necessarily mean it likes the hot, afternoon sun. My pineapple sage wilted often in August’s heat but thrived in the cooler autumn temperatures. I think it would have thrived in morning sun, afternoon shade, which is where I will put it next year.  Pineapple sage is one of my favorite herbs for teas so I periodically cut stems and harvest the leaves. I learned that if I strip almost all leaves except two or three, I could put the stems in water and they will root.  I end up with even more plants to put into the garden or to give to friends.tomatofaceJuly2014 089

Shiso: Learned that shiso can be invasive in Virginia. I obtained a seed packet from a California based company and after I had transplanted the seedlings to my garden, I saw many plants in the neighbor’s garden, in the sidewalk cracks, alongside the road, etc. I then researched shiso further and discovered that it is considered invasive here, but maybe not California. The source of seed can make a difference plus the seed packet may not tell you everything you need to know.

Sugar snap peas: Learned that these are very easy to germinate, just soak seeds in water overnight, put in wet paper towels or paper coffee filters, and seal in a plastic bag. They germinate so fast this way you best be ready to plant them. I also learned that seedlings tolerate the cold, wet soil better than seeds so is best to germinate indoors and then plant outdoors.

Summer squash: Learned that it is worth it to grow the yellow summer squash so I will find a way to prevent the dreaded squash vine borer. My family enjoyed eating squash in a casserole dish and I am sure they will enjoy it next year when I add it to grilled shish kebab.cucumbersbeans 052

Tomato: Learned that seed germinates so fast, you can use cardboard egg cartons (any longer and the cardboard will get moldy). Also learned the value of growing in a medium with the prescribed amount of fertilizer. I have always grown my tomatoes in Earthboxes on the deck and they have never had diseases. I really believe it is because they are grow from seed, in a container on the deck (away from the garden soil and other plants), and with the prescribed amounts of lime and fertilizer.June29tomato 007

Zinger hibiscus or Roselle: Learned that the variety makes a difference. I obtained a packet of seed from a California-based company. Although I started the seeds indoors in early spring, transplanted outdoors in very rich soil in large containers (practically coddled them), this particular Hibiscus sabdariffa finally started flowering in late September but our frosts occur at the end of October. Again, the seed packet did not offer the crucial fact that flower initiation is caused by short days/long nights. Next year, I will grow another variety called Thai Red Roselle, which starts flowering mid-summer, allowing a more ample harvest.

Act Two: Enter Swiss Chard, Exit Pak Choi

Mid-June, Swiss chard time. A relative of the beet, Swiss chard is grown for leaves instead of a bulbous root. Usually the leaves are large and green, some with colored veins. The stalks, upright and crunchy, can come in a variety of colors, such as: red (Scarlet, Ruby, Rhubarb, and Charlotte); orange, purple, gold, pink and red (Rainbow); gold (Golden Sunrise); red and white (Peppermint Stick); and white (Fordhook Giant). Probably the most well known is Bright Lights, an All-American Selection in 1998.

Bright Lights, an All-American Selection, photo courtesy of AAS

Bright Lights, an All-American Selection, photo courtesy of AAS

Swiss chard is very easy to grow; very easy to start from seed outside. Because of the colorful stems, I use Swiss chard in the front of the house, just like zinnias and marigolds. So far I have had no pests or diseases although I am sure deer would find Swiss chard very tasty. There are small, container-sized varieties for adding color to the deck but usually the plants grow at least one foot in my garden, in full sun. I start them by seed in the beginning of summer and use them as a succession crop to my pak choi which has bolted by now. About a month ago, I planted some seeds in containers on the deck, thinking I would transplant them later. Then, about two weeks ago, because the pak choi had bolted so fast, I scattered the remaining seeds in between the pak choi and waited until the seeds had germinated and grown enough to be able to distinguish them from weeds. I then pulled the pak choi and weeds allowing enough sunlight for the Swiss chard seedlings to thrive. I transferred my transplants from the containers to the front strip in between the seedlings. So now my bed is a mixture of Swiss chard seedlings and 3-inch transplants. I don’t know how this patch will look in a few weeks but I know it will be colorful and edible. I had a variety of packages that I wanted to use up (Fordhook Giant, Lucullus, Bright Lights, and Red) but next year, I could try a bed of only Bright Lights or only Peppermint Stick (that will really add a “wow” factor!).

swiss chard transplants

swiss chard transplants

swiss chard seedlings

swiss chard seedlings

In a few weeks, I will cut the outer leaves for quiche or salad, leaving the remaining, younger leaves for the plant to continue to grow. Both leaf and stem can be eaten raw or cooked, like spinach. The stems are so colorful though, there has to be something more creative that can be done with them, like pickled or candied Swiss chard stems. Any ideas? 

Pak Choi Babies

"Green Fortune" pak choi in container 2013

“Green Fortune” pak choi in container 2013

Last year, I planted pak choi (also known as bok choi or bok choy) in a large, plastic container on my deck. Pak choi is a type of a Chinese cabbage, a member of the brassica or cabbage family. I had never eaten pak choi before but I had a new seed packet of baby pak choi “Green Fortune” from Renee’s Garden, an online seed source for veggies, herbs, and flowers in California. Renee’s Garden has distinctive seed packages: the fronts have beautiful, colorful drawings while the backs have an extra flap of paper to provide more than enough information to start seeds successfully.

Unlike the species which can grow to a foot, “Green Fortune” was bred to remain short, only six inches tall. Thus, it grew well in the container which was about a foot wide and tall. The stems were thick and white; the leaves were light green and as broad as a Chinese soup spoon. I harvested by cutting the outer leaves and was surprised to find that the stems were sweet enough to be eaten raw. The crunch texture was similar to celery. My family enjoyed the leaves and stems in our chicken stir fry dishes and I even tossed some pak choi into our crock pot stews.

Because I successfully added a new vegetable to our family’s repertoire, I decided to plant more pak choi this spring but in the ground. In March, I planted three rows of seeds from the “Green Fortune” package (yes, the seeds were a year old by now) and “heirloom” seeds from Lake Valley Seed Company in Colorado which I must have gotten from a seed swap I attended in February (more on that in a future post!). The Lake Valley Seed package was packed for 2012 so between the two packages I did not expect much. I usually do not have much luck with broadcasting seed and right after I planted three rows, it rained so hard I thought for sure the seeds would be washed away.

However, within a few days, the ground was littered with many green buttons, popping out of the ground. There were too many, too close together but the seedlings were too small to lift and separate – there was no “stem” for my fingers to grab. Fortunately, I facilitate a garden club at work and we meet every other week during lunch in a conference room. The morning of our next meeting, I took my trowel and scooped out a section of soil with seedlings on top and placed the chunk in a plastic strawberry container. I used the clear plastic containers that strawberries are sold in, about six inches long and three inches wide, perfect size for a wedge of soil. For each container I inserted a wedge of soil with seedlings on top, snapped the lid closed, and placed in a plastic bag (the containers had holes and I could ill afford to spill dirt in the conference room). I put six plastic bags in a large brown bag and distributed the bags to my colleagues. They really appreciated receiving pak choi seedlings where all they had to do was just plop the chunk of dirt in their own garden bed when they got home. Later, when the seedlings get larger, we will have to lift and separate each plant to allow more space but giving bags of instant pak choi was just as much fun for me as it was for them!

pak choi seedlings in spring 2014

pak choi seedlings in spring 2014