Thursday, February 16, 2012

Easy How To: Grow Asian Greens Like Bok Choy, Pak Choy, Tatsoi, and Mizuna by Direct Seeding in the Garden

Asian greens in the kitchen garden 10-10-06
Gorgeous gourmet Asian greens: not available in most stores.

There are many things to consider when deciding what to plant in your vegetable garden: available space and time, soil conditions, time of year, cost of growing vs. buying (or is buying even an option?), how much you love to eat it, past performance, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, does it do well in your location?

When I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to rural Missouri back in 1994, I was surprised to discover that while nearly everyone around here planted a vegetable garden each spring, many people grew nothing but beans, corn, tomatoes, and potatoes.

I quickly learned that with our extremely fickle climate and growing conditions, these are the crops most likely to reward you with a decent harvest, but even they're not guaranteed. Plus people just aren't into stuff like basil and Swiss chard and arugula—which thankfully also do well here.

I've also had good luck growing all sorts of Asian (Oriental) greens, which you can't find for sale in this area. There are numerous types of Asian green seeds available, and it's fun to experiment with different varieties. Large leaf ton ho or wong bok cabbage, anyone? Fast growing mizuna is one of my favorites. It's often stir-fried (I'm crazy about my Lodge cast iron wok), but I love it best in salads.

More below. . .

Baby Canton Bok Pak Choy harvested 10-22-06
Freshly picked baby Canton bok pak choy—look at that beautiful dark color.

Growing your own greens also allows you to harvest them at any size. An editor and aspiring gardener I worked with once was shocked when I told her that the baby bok choy she was paying exorbitant prices for was simply regular bok choy picked at an early age. Just like with Swiss chard and kale, the young, tender leaves of most Asian greens are wonderful in salads.

Two years ago I wrote a post called How To Grow Asian (Oriental) Greens for Fall by Direct Seeding, which includes tips on things like organic pest control and protecting your plants from below freezing temperatures. While they usually do better in my autumn garden, cold hardy Asian greens can also be perfect for growing in late winter and early spring, or even all through winter if you're in a mild climate.

Other cold loving crops that are easy to grow from seed include lettuce, Swiss chard (my second favorite thing to grow after tomatoes), and arugula.

My package of tatsoi from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds says "Asian greens should be sown in place in earliest spring. [They] need cool conditions, adequate moisture, and rich, well-worked garden soil to make rapid growth."

It then goes on to say, "If desired, sow seed more closely and eat the thinnings as they are gradually pulled to allow the proper final spacing between plants." This is what I started doing years ago with everything from lettuce to Swiss chard. If you stop planting your seeds in neat little rows and scatter them thickly in large swaths or squares instead, it's easier, faster, and will give you more food and a lot fewer weeds.

Just be sure to keep up with your thinning so the remaining plants have enough room to spread out grow. When I sowed a bunch of Asian greens extra thickly because the seeds were a few years old and I wasn't sure how well they'd germinate, the plants ended up so crowded that many became stunted, then bloomed and went to seed early.

Some of my seeds will last for years and some won't (lettuce seeds are the worst), and I was too lazy and time pressed to test these seeds for viability. Yes, sometimes there can actually be such a thing as too much germination!

If you're looking for a fun and healthy start to this year's gardening season, I urge you to delve into some delicious Asian greens.

Have you already discovered the joys of growing Asian greens? Any tips, tricks, favorite varieties, or recipes to share?
More posts about some of my favorite things to grow:

©, where this year's seed orders still haven't been placed—and lambing season starts in less than two weeks!


  1. I'm definitely going to try to grow more asian greens in my garden.

  2. I tried growing Asian greens, but the bugs around here thought they tasted wonderful and I never really got to eat much. Strange as I do not have a problem with other greens except for rocket. Diane

  3. Thanks for the tips. Greens are one group of vegetables I have not tried growing. This spring I plan to experiment with hay bale gardening. Do you have any suggestions for successful growing?

  4. Also good for Asian noodle soups. We use vermicelli rice noodles, but soba (buckwheat) noodles are also delicious. You can just chuck the greens in right at the end if they're small--they wilt immediately.

  5. I love growing lettuce and spinach that way, I can't believe I didn't think of doing the asian greens this way. I was even looking in the seed catalogs wistfully wishing I had the patience to wait for the asian greens to mature. And now I don't have to!! Thank you!!!

  6. I love home grown Asian greens, but early spring and summer seedlings attract too many flea beetles, so I save these for fall planting, after the fresh lettuce has gone to seed, I switch to Asian greens and arugula.

  7. I grow many Asian greens in SW New York State. My Farmers' Market customers LOVE Baby Bok Choy {I use Johnny's Seeds and Fedco Seeds for Mei Qing and Shuko},Mizuna, and Tatsoi. Rowcovers protect them from flea beetles but, as you say Farmgirl, they thrive in cooler weather so I focus on these greens for Fall plantings. So easy to grow and so delicious.Look forward to more garden posts!

  8. Tiffany @ No Ordinary HomesteadFebruary 21, 2012 10:23 PM

    Very interesting Asian Greens. I really enjoyed this information. Thanks for sharing!
    I actually host a weekly gardening link up every Friday on my blog. I'd love for you to drop by and join in.

  9. Hi Susan. I have tried a few Asian greens in my garden, and would never give them up. But I still think my all-time favorite green is arugula - simply can't get enough and had it till late November this year. Yum!

    Also, just a quick note to tell you I’ve nominated you for a “Versatile Blog Award”!

    Don’t know what that means? Well, neither did I when I received this award last week from a fellow blogger named Isobel ( in Warminster, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. I, of course, wanted to know more, so I did some research. I found a website that helped a lot. I also began to notice, as I surfed around, the “Versatile Blog Award” button on some blogs I was visiting. Visit my blog to see the announcement of your blog as a recipient of this award.
    Why you, you may ask? Just because, I say! Because your blog caught my attention and inspired me in some fashion. It might have been the way you write, the great photos you take, or the fact that you motivate me to act, to be. Perhaps it was the look and feel of your blog overall. Maybe because you seemed genuine in some way, not self-serving, and not necessarily writing to accumulate “followers”, but rather with passion. Whatever my reason, a good chance for me to say “thanks” for delighting me through your blog!

    Keep it up - I love it! Karen

  10. My husband and I are very much into Asian cooking so Asian greens,Chinese Chives and herbs are a staple in our garden. The seeds are easy to grow and the outcome so very yummy!

  11. I grew many lettuce plants this spring from 6-7 year old seed, I soaked the seeds overnight in water with a pinch of seaweed fertilizer in it. I planted thickly because I didn't think that I would get much germination but they started very well - a bit too well.
    Good Gardening, Mary


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!