Produce Profile: Asian Greens Enliven Any Garden

Ranging from spicy to mild, multiple varieties of Asian greens provide taste and nutrition for your homegrown meals.

by Lisa Munniksma
PHOTO: meboonstudio/Shutterstock

Back before I started farming—when I was the editor of Hobby Farms magazine, actually—I shared an organic vegetable and meat CSA with a coworker. This was before CSAs were customizable, so we cooked what we were given, learning how to use all manner of wonderful produce that we would never have chosen on our own.

Bok choy is at the top of that list.

In fact, 10 years later, my former-coworker and I still laugh about all of the bok choy that we consumed that year.

While we weren’t sure what to expect when we opened that first CSA box, we were delighted to find that bok choy is, in fact, delicious. It’s good for you, too, packed with Vitamins A, C and K, plus folic acid, iron, beta-carotene, potassium and more.

Here are 7 ways you can increase signups for an underperforming CSA.

Asian Greens Varieties

Bok choy may be the most known of the Asian greens, but it’s not the only greens in the garden. Browse a few seed catalogs to marvel at the photos of the brilliant-colored stems and funky looking leaves, and then order a few.

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Other Asian greens to know include:

  • Tatsoi: Like a milder mustard green, tatsoi grows in a head like bok choy. You can also grow it as a baby green, such as for salad greens and braising mixes.
  • Tokyo Bekana: This loose-head Chinese cabbage is a new go-to green in my area. Growers say it’s easy and quick to produce, and eaters like its mild taste that can be eaten in salads or sautéed.
  • Hon Tsai Tai: Here is the most interesting looking of these greens. Their long, thin, purple flower stems and buds can be harvested multiple times throughout early fall and winter.
  • Mizuna: You already know mizuna as a favorite in salad mixes. This cut-and-come-again leafy vegetable is actually a traditional mustard green from Japan.
Asian greens bok choi seedlings

How to Grow

While each variety has its own idiosyncrasies, they’re pretty similar in garden behavior.

Start the head-bearing greens indoors and transplant them. Those you’re growing for baby leaves should be direct seeded. They like to germinate in warm soil temps, so spring through summer is good.

By and large, Asian greens don’t take up a lot of space in the garden. And they don’t require super-rich soil. A little compost to start them out, cultivating for weed control or planting into mulch, and regular watering, and your new favorite crop is good to go.

Flea beetles like Asian greens as much as we do. So stay prepared with floating row cover to keep back the pests. Asian greens produce leaves, not fruits, so you don’t need to worry about exposing their flowers for pollination.

Learn different ways to keep flea beetles under control in your garden.

How to Harvest

You can harvest mature and bunched-head greens about six weeks after germination. Those harvested by the stem, like the Tokyo Bekana and Hon Tsai Tai, you can snap off individually, as you would a kale stem. Asian greens that grow as bunched heads—bok choy and tatsoi—should be cut off at soil level with a sharp knife, using care to keep your knife out of the soil.

Baby greens and mizuna are generally ready four weeks after direct seeding. Harvest them with a sharp serrated knife. If you go big into baby greens production, you may find a mechanical greens harvester a worthwhile investment.

How to Eat Asian Greens

Back to that bok choy from my CSA box. Those deliveries really opened my eyes to the varied ways one can eat Asian greens, aside from your average stir fry. A few of my favorites:

  • As a green salad mix-in, in the case of baby leaves
  • Creamy bok choy and potato soup
  • Sautéed with sesame oil, ginger and garlic, topped with sesame seeds
  • Steamed and tossed with peanut sauce and noodles
  • In any way that you’d normally use spinach

And don’t worry about growing too much. Blanched, these greens freeze beautifully for an easy year-round soup or stir-fry addition.

Quick growing, versatile and relatively low-maintenance (minus those darn flea beetles), Asian greens provide a nutrition-packed veggie suitable for every garden.

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