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!

Mixed greens bed is sowed

Did some good work today in advance of the rains- still some risk of a wash-out but I’ll take the chance.

Did the newspaper trick after clearing the old moldy fava bean dirt and the few weeds that had taken root.

Then it was just a matter of dumping a few bags of soil in, which was quite the workout!

I’m not making the same mistake I made with the moldy lettuce- I put a few good shakes of sure start fertilizer after bag of soil 2. See the weird roots of my lettuce might have been a result of not only the freak heat wave right after I planted them- but the lack of good soil microbes. Sure start fertilizer is a good way to inoculate the soil. I like to think of it as soil probiotics.

These are the Pac Choi I’m putting in, the green one is the “Joy” cultivar and the purple one is the “Rosy” cultivar.

I’ve had great luck with Pac Choi. It’s just a Asian cultivar of cabbage, but much more robust and pest resistant. Also easier to grow and the whole thing is edible. Yummy firm stems and green leaves (or purple!) make for a great side dish or stir fry. (Or salad or braised dish or…)

But I like a mixed bed- no mono cultures here!

So since I’ve been having bad luck with the Romaine plants- time to plant romaine from seed!

Two rows that will of course need to be thinned pretty heavily, but hopefully they won’t be washed out by the rains.

But that’s not all…

My dad’s favorite vegetable!

He eats so many of these I’m surprised I haven’t been growing them already!

I think I’d been laboring under the delusion that they’re hard to grow- maybe in other places, but not in our climate!

Three rows and the best thing is that you don’t need to thin them at all. Just a seed every half inch to inch and you won’t need to pull any till they’re full grown and ready to eat!

This is also one of the great advantages of growing in San Francisco as in different climates you’d never be able to grow green onions in winter but here- full speed ahead.

Anyways- it’s a pretty bed.

Romaine at the back which is the shadiest, Pac Choi in the middle, and green onions in the front to capture all the winter sun.

Of course the seeds might get borked by the upcoming torrents of rain- but I have plenty of seeds to re-sow next week in case of disaster.

That being said I am considering mulching over the seeds before the rains and then removing it after- but I haven’t made up my mind on that.

What I am is tired- this was a lot of soil to lug around on a Sunday.

Here’s a picture of some beautiful little cabbages:

God I love Pac Choi.