Planting a fall bed, second best brassica edition

As the season turns, from summer into actual summer fall, it comes time to plant more cabbage family crops. I have my nice bok choy, which despite my best efforts of spraying them and setting slug bait, are becoming well nibbled.

*sigh*

One must pay the pest tax to garden.

ANYWAYS.

Look, I don’t have the room/time/patience to painstakingly make my own compost. So I buy, sue me. It’s good stuff! After sifting through the remains of the last bed, I added a bag of the good stuff and mixed it in. I kept some of the old shredded redwood, it helps the bed drain.

Then it was time to plant my little darlings.

And time to swaddle them in mulch as a hedge against the 80 degree temperatures we keep getting.

80 degree temps *and* rain in the morning whoo hoo San Francisco!

But what, you ask, are these little darlings?

Brussels’s sprouts!

My second favorite brassica, and one I’ve never grown before!

I’m terrified!

But they look nice, and with the exception of my cursed experience with turnips, I’m good with the brassicas.

I hear they look like spaceships when they get tall!

Oh and I planted some spinach.

In literally the shadiest part of the garden, and I still expect half of it will bolt by October.

Or fall prey to the pests.

Spinach keeps breaking my heart, but I keep answering it’s siren song.

Time to buy more sluggo!

Romanesco issues

The little romanescos are still growing, but the big one that survived the maggots is getting quite big.

There’s just one problem.

This is a romanesco:

This is what is growing in my garden.

Did… something happen when the seeds were packed? Did purple cauliflower jump into the seed packet? Did I screw something up so badly that the color and shape changed?

I’m grateful that the romanesco isn’t having the same issues as the cauliflower, but I am deeply confused.

Oh well. It’s some kind of broccoli and I love broccoli.

But this is weird.

Bok Choy, Pac Choi, Brassica rapa, it’s all Latin to me.

Or in the case of the first two names, Cantonese.

It’s my 100th post! So since I harvested my first Bok Choy of the year, I thought I’d do a deep dive into one of my favorite cabbages!

Bok Choy, also know as Pac Choi, which is how my garden center spells it- is a member of the cabbage family of plants. Specifically, Bok Choy is Brassica rapa. Now the really really cool thing about cabbages is that we’ve been breeding them for so long that even members of the same species of cabbage can have wildly different forms based on the specific cultivar or variety.

Bok Choy, is one of two cabbages sometimes referred to as “Chinese Cabbage” the other of course being napa cabbage. Both are members of the same species, but if you’ve ever put a napa cabbage and a bok choy together, you’ve probably noticed they look quite different.

Here’s where it gets crazier. The “rapa” in the scientific name is Latin for turnip.

That’s right! The turnip is also Brassica rapa! in other words, the Bok Choy I’m growing in one part of my garden, and the turnips I’m growing in another, are the same species of plant!

Bok Choy and Pac Choi are just different ways of transliterating the Cantonese word for the plant into English, traditionally the first is American English while the second is British English. Which raises a few questions as to why a plant nursery in California is using the British transliteration? Who knows.

Even varieties within a specific cultivar can look and grow quite different. This is the Rosy cultivar I’ve been growing along with the green and white type, which is called “Joi Choi”. The Joi Choi is growing really well and big, while the purple type is… growing. As you can see in the picture, the interior is flowering, which makes no sense- that’s usually something that gets triggered by heat, and it’s January. Now the flowering part is most likely totally edible, that’s what Cauliflower and Broccoli are after all, a cabbage that was bred for it’s edible flowers. (That however is Brassica oleracea, the species that includes cabbages proper, kale, Brussels sprouts and the aforementioned cauliflower and broccoli). So even if it is growing weirdly- I’ll still eat it.

I’m hoping that as I harvest the Joi Choi, the added space will cause the Rosy cultivar to grow a bit better. Or it might not, and I’ll just harvest all the purple ones all together for baby bok choy. Either way, I win. Such is the way of cabbages.

Bok Choy is like a lot of cabbage species and cultivars in that it needs a good wash. It’s not as bad as something like a leek, or god forbid, artichokes- which will never grace my garden kill them with fire they are bug hotels. But you still need to cut off the root end and give everything a good rinse. Depending on how you’re cooking them (or if you plan to eat them raw) you might not even use a salad spinner or towels to dry them off. I don’t.

General cooking advice is to cook them like chard or kale, separate the leaves from the stems, cut both up, saute the stems first in a little oil and salt, and once those are starting to soften, throw in the leaves and finish it up with a good grind of pepper. Bok Choy are also good in stir fry, just add the stems first and the leaves at the end along side whatever other veggies and proteins are in your fry.

This bad boy was actually destined for some braised steaks, added into the braising liquid along with some carrots and onions, steaks nestled inside, and slow cooked in the oven for two hours. It was delicious.

Now I use starts to save time, but much as growing turnips from seed is super easy peasy, so is growing bok choy. Brassica rapa is just one of the easier vegetables to grow, and I’ve done it year round. They might not love the hottest of summers, but as long as you grow them in the shade they should be fine. Similarly, while there is not a real danger of frost out here, in places where it does snow, you can grow Bok Choy easily in cold frames. Like most cabbages, they’re resilient and easy to grow, a testament to the fact that they are the modern descendants of one of the first vegetable species domesticated by humans.

One caveat. Like all cabbages they will attract some bugs. One of the reasons I prefer raised beds and growing my cabbages in the colder months is because of a nasty but pretty little white moth called a cabbage moth or cabbage butterfly. Two species of this winged foe exist, Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae. The fact that their species name translates into cabbage and turnip respectively should tell you everything about their preferred food. But they’re not the only ones. The last time I grew turnips in the ground instead of in a raised bed, I lost 90 percent of my crop to an unknown grub, that I only discovered while cutting into my turnips. (EW.) But the various grubs and the cabbage moths are much more active in the summer. What is active this time of year is slugs and snails, especially after all this rain. That’s most likely the culprit behind the few scattered holes on the bok choy. I put down the slug bait, but honestly? A few holes in your cabbages won’t spoil your dinner. (Grubs in your turnips on the other hand…)

So give growing Bok Choy (or Pac Choi) a try! It’s easier than you think, and the rewards are delicious.

I can’t believe I’ve managed to crank out 100 posts in less than a year. I still feel slightly like I’m shouting into the void, but it’s a nice hobby, and I hope I’m brightening someone’s day. Thanks to everyone who reads this- here’s to my garden, and yours!