Chinese cabbage, Bok choy or Pak choi is a kind of halfway house between lettuce and cabbage. Although strictly speaking it is a brassica - related to cabbages, broccoli, kale. Fairly new to our palettes, it has a fresh, oriental appeal – great raw, steamed or stir-fried. Like a cabbage with ‘go faster stripes’ it can be ready for harvest within 4 to 6 weeks of sowing. It is especially welcome in our gardens year round thanks to tolerance of both cold and hot conditions. For a fairly lightweight-looking leafy green Chinese cabbage offers a good dose of essential vitamin C, calcium and folic acid.
Companions Garlic, peas, broad beans.
Quantity 6 per person as successive individual sowings.
Brassica rapa var. chinensis (Bok choy, Pak Choi) open and more lettuce-like with dark green leaves and pure white succulent stems
Brassica rapa var. pekinensis (Wombok) forms a tight head more like a cabbage.
Tatsoi (Chinese Cabbage) heirloom variety with dark green rounded leaves – good raw or cooked. Great for growing in winter.
Misome (Chinese Cabbage) a hybrid that produces dark green rounded leaves – good for growing in summer due to heat resistance.
Pak Choi White Stem open pollinated variety of pak choi with succulent leaves. Continues to produce new foliage after cutting.
Cabbage Chinese One Kilo Slowbolt F1. Hybrid variety, fast growing, Produces tight head of crisp leaves with yellowish center when cut. Sweet taste.
Can be sown and grown year round in many parts of the country but will perform best when sown from August to November and March through to May. Avoid sowing and planting during periods of heavy frost unless you can protect with cloches or frost cloth.
Preferably a sunny and sheltered part of your garden although Chinese cabbage will grow in light shade.
Chinese cabbage is a hungry feeder and, like other brassicas such as broccoli, and kale, it grows best in rich, well-composted soil that does not hold onto moisture for more than say half a day. Ideally, Chinese cabbage should be planted where peas or beans have previously grown so it can take advantage of all the nitrogen that has been ‘fixed’ into the soil. Soil should be fairly firm so pat down with a rake after digging and before you sow.
Best to sow straight into your beds although in wetter months you might sow into trays or punnets and then plant out once seedlings have developed more than two pairs leaves. You can sow seed in rows or scatter them across an area. Seeds should be popped into long drills (if sowing in rows) or small depressions. Cover with a finger-tip deep layer of soil.
Whether sowing or planting each seedling will need about a hand’s length of clear soil all round so that it has enough space to grow to maturity uninterrupted (for heading varieties like Wombok you may want to give a bit more – say 1 ½ hands all round). Water after sowing with a rose fitted to your watering can for a gentle shower rather than a deluge.
Keep your seedlings moist and weed free and feed the soil to produce extra juicy heads and leaves. Mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds and keep an eye out for slugs. You can boost soil nutrient levels with a liquid feed (liquid seaweed, or even a liquid feed you’ve made from lawn trimmings and weeds that will give a good dose of nitrogen – the essential nutrient for healthy leaves). With Chinese cabbage being a fast grower you may only need to apply once or twice.
Ensure you firm soil and draw earth up around your seedlings – this helps to keep roots strong and firm. Keep mulching to maintain good soil moisture throughout the growing period.
Cabbage white butterflies are the number 1 pest. You can protect your brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cavolo nero) with fine mesh to stop the butterflies laying their eggs on the lush leaves (it’s the caterpillars that do all the damage). Remove any visible caterpillars by hand and feed to garden birds or chickens. Caterpillars can also be deterred by treating leaves with Chilli spray or by giving them a dusting with household flour.
Individual leaves can be pilfered from Bok choy and Pak choi as they grow but usually entire plants are harvested when they have reached about a hand’s length in height.
Ongoing: Sow in successive batches – several plants every few weeks should provide a regular supply of greens for the kitchen.