Diversity is the key to a healthy diet and a beautiful garden. While many vegetable gardeners grow spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, kale and a handful of other common leafy greens, it’s always good to branch out and try growing a few new-to-you greens every year.
Some of my favorite garden greens are Asian varieties, whose flavorful punch adds texture and interest to many different dishes. If you love to cook and enjoy growing something unique, Asian greens can certainly fit the bill.
One of the greens I won’t garden without is pac choi. This succulent green is a close relative of cabbage and other cole crops. It’s one of the first crops to be planted in my garden every spring. Because pac choi plants bolt (or go to flower) when the weather warms and the days lengthen, I’m always sure to sow the seeds into my garden by late March. Another reason to love pac choi is its speedy growth rate. I’m harvesting bunches of this green just 30 to 40 days after planting the seeds into the garden. This Asian green shrugs off late spring frosts and the thick green leaves are delicious in soups and stir fries. You can even use young raw leaves in salads. Pac choi also does great in containers.
Another Asian green worth growing is Chinese cabbage. The tight, elongated heads of this class of cabbage are full of densely packed layers of ridged leaves. The tight heads shrug off weather extremes, but like other cabbages, they do best when planted early in the season. Mild and sweet, you can use shredded Chinese cabbage in slaws and salads, or cook it in soups and stir fries. I find Chinese cabbage to be easier to digest and more mildly flavored than regular cabbages.
If you’re looking to add a bit of spice to your collection of garden greens, add Asian mustard greens to your plan. The deep burgundy color of these piquant leaves is gorgeous in the garden, and their spicy flavor is oh-so unique. Easily grown from seed sown into the garden as soon as the spring soil can be worked, the wide, flat leaves of mustard greens are fast growing. Frilly varieties, like Ruby Streaks and Tye-Dye Blend, add another dimension of beauty to the garden, too.
Another variety of Asian greens worth adding to your garden is Mizuna. The bright green, frilly leaves of this green are phenomenal additions to salads and sandwiches. They’re also delicious when added to soups and stir fries. Their slightly spicy flavor introduces a bit of a kick to the plate, but it’s not overwhelming. Purple varieties add another dimension with their colorful leaf veins and stems. Easily grown from spring-planted seeds, mizuna is a fast grower that produces best in the cool weather of spring.
One final Asian green I’d like to share is Tokyo bekana. I’m always surprised that this green isn’t already on the radar of passionate vegetable gardeners, because it’s an excellent addition to fresh salad mixes. The thick, crunchy, ruffled leaves of Tokyo bekana look like a cross between a Romaine lettuce and kale, and their taste is beyond compare. Tokyo bekana forms a lovely green head and the succulent leaf midribs add a ton of crunch to salads, but you can also add the baby greens to the salad bowl just three weeks after sowing the seeds.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.