Bok choy has a plethora of names and spellings, including pak choi, bok choi, pak choy, Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbage, and spoon cabbage. This green is commonly eaten raw when young and steamed or sautéed when a bit older. The leaves have a mild, sweet flavor that resembles that of Swiss chard. Bok choy is relatively easy to grow in temperate climates, but note that it will not survive hard frosts and tends to bolt if grown in hot summer conditions. A relative of the turnip, it was originally grown in China, with cultivation and breeding focusing on leaves instead of roots. If left in the ground for a second season, it will sprout yellow flowers.
Tatsoi Rosette bok choy has a spoon-shaped leaf with a nutty and sometimes spicy flavor and crunchy stalks that taste very similar to celery. This variety is excellent for regions with cooler weather as it can withstand temperatures as low as 15°F once mature and can be harvested well into the winter months. This variety tends to grow outwards rather than upwards, so make sure you have enough space (1–2′) surrounding your plants to allow them to flourish.
Seed Depth: 1/4–1/2″
Space Between Plants: 6″
Space Between Rows: 18″
Germination Soil Temperature: 45–75°F
Days for Germination: 5–10
Sow Indoors: 8–10 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: 4–6 weeks before average last frost date. For fall crop, plant again in late summer, 2–3 months before average first frost date. This variety is particularly hardy, so plant in the early fall as well for an early winter harvest.
Grows best in cool, mild weather. More likely to bolt if exposed to frost or excessive summer heat. In most areas, they are best grown as a spring or fall crop. If your winters don’t drop much below freezing, plant in the fall to harvest greens throughout the winter.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Grows best under fluorescent lights. Needs at least 7 hours of light daily. Take note: excess light will not help production but actually stress out your plants. And stress just doesn’t taste good.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soil with high amounts of organic matter. A pH of between 6.5 and 7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Start seeds in a soilless mix or using mineral wool.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT, media-based drip systems, and deep water culture.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Soil must be kept consistently moist for best growth and tastiest leaves.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients to support its fast growth. Add a source of organic matter such as compost or aged manure before planting.
Foliar: Will benefit from a foliar feeding of compost tea when young.
Pruning: If you plant the seeds densely, thin to 6″ apart and eat the thinnings as baby greens.
Mulching: Use mulch to moderate soil temperatures, which will help to keep plants from bolting.
Rotation: A 2- to 3-year rotation away from all plants in the brassica family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with potatoes, beets, celery, and onions. Nasturtiums and aromatic herbs planted nearby will help repel insects and slugs. Avoid tomatoes and strawberries.
Harvest: You can eat bok choy as a microgreen by sprouting seeds in a seed tray and cutting them down about 7–10 days after they begin to sprout. You’ll know they’re ready when the first set of true leaves has developed. For baby bok choy, cut the entire plant at the soil level once it has reached 4–6″ in height. You can harvest mature outer leaves individually, allowing the plant to continue growing from the center and prolonging your harvest time. When the flower stalk begins to form and the plant is approximately 12″ tall, cut the whole plant before the leaves get bitter.
Storage: Mature leaves will keep well loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Try to use them within two weeks from harvesting. Younger plants, microgreens, and sprouts will perish more quickly, so use those within 3–5 days.
Seed Saving: Bok choy seeds may be saved by allowing pods to dry and smashing them in a bag to extract the seeds. Avoid green pods as they’re not generally viable.
History: This plant is relatively new to the states, not showing up in seed catalogs until the mid 1900s. This is due to the fact that it wasn’t brought over to the US until the mid 1800s by Chinese immigrants as they left their homelands to seek employment on the railroads and farms of California. While this vegetable is growing in popularity and its uses are becoming more varied, it’s still most commonly thought of as an ingredient for Chinese and Korean dishes, such as Kimchi.
Preserve: Although bok choy may be frozen, it’s not recommended. Leaves may also be dried as is commonly done in Chinese households. To dry, blanch leaves and pat dry. Place on a baking sheet and in the oven at 200°F for up to 12 hours, turning leaves every couple hours. Leaves may also be preserved or pickled.
Prepare: As the stems are somewhat tough compared to the leaves, it’s easiest to blanch the bok choy before cooking. If you are searing the greens, make sure they are dry before adding to the pan as wet leaves will cause them to steam.
Nutritional: Contains high levels of vitamin(s) C, K, A, B6, B5, and B1. Also contains trace amounts of various minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.
Medicinal: Because of its high vitamin content and low calories, bok choy can be a positive addition to any diet. As it also possesses many helpful antioxidants, it has been speculated that it can assist in preventing certain types of cancer such as breast and colon. Bok choy has also been linked to lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol.
Warnings: As with most other vegetables, eating bok choy in normal amounts is perfectly safe and can actually improve one’s health. If eaten in excess, however, bok choy can cause hypothyroidism—a condition in which the thyroid ceases to release adequate amounts of the hormone that regulates your metabolism.
Use your baby bok choy leaves in this Sweet Potato and Bok Choy Curry, which is not only savory and healthy but beautiful to boot!