Growing Asian Greens
Sow these easy, quick-growing crops for flavor-packed meals.
As the buds of flowering trees begin to swell and the top layer of soil slowly warms and becomes workable, we scramble to get in our first sowings of Peas, Arugula, Spinach, and Asian Greens—all crops that thrive in the cooler months of spring and fall. Asian Greens, particularly, come as a welcome spring tonic: they’re quick-growing and incredibly delicious, ranging from the succulent and mild to the pungent and mustardy. After a long winter, these early harvests reawaken our senses to the amazing freshness and vitality found in a homegrown crop.
The diversity of flavors, textures, and shapes within this collection of mostly brassicas is so extraordinary that we like to sow several types. Because Tatsoi and Mizuna are the most cold-tolerant, these are sown first and last, serving as bookends to the growing season.
Direct sow most varieties of Asian Greens as soon as the soil can be worked in springtime (or, in late summer for fall harvests). Work compost into the top layer of soil and space seeds 1-2” apart in rows 10-12” apart. Sow more densely for a crop of baby greens and/or thin as plants develop. Most Asian Greens can be harvested within 3-6 weeks from sowing.
Transplanting allows you to get an even earlier start in the spring. Start seeds indoors 4 weeks prior to the desired planting date. Transplant individual plants 4-6” apart. For best results, start only the larger Asian greens indoors and provide good airflow to prevent damping off; Rainbow Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Baby Bok Choy, Komatsuna, and Red Giant Mustard are good choices.
All Asian greens are susceptible to flea beetle damage, so keep covered with row cover if flea beetles are an issue. Row cover can also be used at the beginning and end of the season as a season extension tool.
As the weather warms, switch to growing for baby leaves as these won’t become bitter in the heat. We love the heat-resistance of Salad Savor, which swoops in to save the day when our Lettuce varieties begin to bolt. Succession sow for baby greens through summer. Mizuna, Red Streaks Mizuna, Red Giant Mustard, and Hon Tsai Tai all make excellent baby leaves. Mix them with other lettuces and salad greens for a delectable summer salad treat. Space seeds 1-2" apart.
For continual harvests of baby greens, succession sow every two weeks. For a cut-and-come-again crop, pinch the outer leaves when they reach 2-4" tall, allowing some leaves to remain to feed the plant. Leave the plants to regrow and repeat cutting 1-2 times.
Tokyo Bekana, Vivid Choi, Rainbow Tatsoi, Komatsuna, Hon Tsai Tai, Bok Choy, Shanghai Green Baby Bok Choy, and all Mustards grow into a nice, leafy head. Encourage growth by providing 8-10” spacing between plants. A late summer sowing will take the heat-pressure off of these crops and allow them to reach their potential through fall.
Harvest whole plants by snipping from the tap root at the base of each plant. After reaching their peak harvest stage, these plants will go to seed.
How to Cook Asian Greens
Most Asian greens are very tender, and can be eaten raw when young. When mature, they only need a quick, light searing to wilt the greens. Thick-stemmed varieties such as Bok choy and Tatsoi need a few more minutes. Season with any combination of ginger, chili, garlic, sweetener, soy sauce, peanut or sesame oil, vinegar, basil, cilantro, lemon juice and miso. We like this simple tutorial for perfect stir-fried Bok Choy.
New to our collection of Asian Greens this year is Britton Shiso (Perilla frutescens). This mint relative has a fascinating flavor profile of mint, anise, cinnamon, citrus, and even cumin, striking a balance between earthy and bright. Shiso features prominently in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisines–and is used in both savory and sweet dishes as well as beverages. Shiso also makes wonderful quick pickles.
Asian Greens will enliven any braised greens mix. Combine any variety with Kale, Spinach, Chard, Broccoli greens, and/or raab; steam all together; then drain, chop and dress with garlic, lemon juice, salt, and plenty of olive oil. Delicious!