Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
August, 2012
Regional Report

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Add mild-tasting, easy-to-grow pak choi to your fall garden. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau.

Pak Choi - A Versatile Choice for Fall Gardens

It hardly seems fair. Just as we're indulging in an abundance of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and other summer vegetables, gardeners are expected to be thinking about the fall garden. Yet, the mid to late summer months are perfect for sowing seeds of vegetables and herbs that grow best as the days get shorter and the nights cooler.

There are dozens of options, and if you've done any fall gardening at all, you probably have some favorites. But have you tried pak choi, also known as bok choy? It is among the fastest growing and easiest of fall vegetables, and the entire plant is edible in all stages, from very young to flowering. It has a light, sweet flavor with just a hint of mustard and a crisp texture. A cabbage relative, pak choi is officially Brassica rapa var. chinensis. Like other cabbage family members, it is high in vitamins A, C, and K plus a very good source of fiber.

Getting to Know Pak Choi Originating in Southeast Asia, pak choi has been cultivated in China since the fifth century A.D. It is a small, stemless biennial plant that grows in a rosette with broad, rounded, dark green leaves on thick, flat, fleshy stalks. Most seed catalogs will list only a handful of varieties, but sources for Asian vegetable seeds, like Kitazawa Seed Company in Oakland, California, offers over eighteen different ones. There are various forms, including varieties with green or white stems, of varying mature heights from 6 to 24 inches, and various leaf shapes and colors, including yellow, red, or purple.

Of the varieties available, two of the best known and most widely adapted are Joi Choi and Mei Qing Choi. Joi Choi grows 12 to 15 inches tall with white stems. Mei Qing Choi grows 8 to 10 inches tall with pale green stems and is very bolt resistant. Both are tolerant of heat and cold and mature in 40 to 50 days. Toy Choy is a miniature pak choi that reaches only 5 inches at maturity in 30 to 35 days, but it isn't as tolerant of cold weather as other varieties.

How to Grow and Use Pak Choi
Pak choi grows best in fertile, well-drained but evenly moist soil. Use an organic mulch around plants to maintain soil moisture and water, if necessary. Space plants 4 to 10 inches apart, depending on the mature size. Pak choi is also well-adapted to growing in containers. Because it's such a beautiful plant, it is a good choice as an edible ornamental. The most serious pests are the same as for other cabbage family members -- cabbage caterpillars, slugs, and flea beetles. If necessary, choose an organic control, such as insecticidal soap.

The leaves of pak choi can be harvested individually, picking the outer leaves, or the heads can all be harvested at once. To extend the harvest season, try growing pak choi in a cold frame or in low unheated tunnels covered in plastic or frost-protection fabric. With this type of protection, varieties like Joi Choi and Mei Qing Choi will survive temperatures as low as 15 degrees F.

Freshly picked pak choi will keep a week or so in the refrigerator. Use it in any number of ways, from raw in salads to cooked by steaming or blanching or added to stir-fries, soups, or in meat, fish, chicken, or noodle dishes. Although it's best when used fresh, pak choi can be blanched, chilled, and frozen. Or, use pak choi for making the pickled Korean delicacy kimchi.

However you decide to use your home-grown pak choi, you're sure to enjoy its flavor and how easy it is to grow.

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