Also known as Pak-Choi, this vegetable is a staple of Asian stir-fry dishes. It is frequently referred to as Chinese Cabbage (several varieties of which we will cover as well), though it is a stalk-forming plant much closer to celery in appearance and use. The leaves and stalks of the Bok-Choy plant are both edible, and more flavorful than celery.
Bok Choy comes in several varieties: Canton Dwarf, Green-Stemmed, Lei Choi, Mei Quing Baby, Prize Choy, Tatsoi, and White-Stemmed (the variety you commonly see at the supermarket). You can order organic Tatsoi or White-Stemmed Bok Choy seeds on the Nature Hills Nursery, or you can get the White-Stemmed variety from them.
Growing Bok Choy
Best Climate to Grow: Bok Choy is a cool-season vegetable that will bolt in hot weather. It can handle light frosts, but not a hard freeze.
Light Requirements: Lots of sun in cooler weather – but partial shade can help put off bolting as the weather warms.
Soil Requirements: Rich in nitrogen, pH neutral to slightly acidic, moisture-retentive with lots of organic matter. Amend as needed before planting. This is a good crop to follow beans when planning your crop rotation schedule, as beans provide lots of nitrogen to the soil.
Feeding and Water Requirements: The soil must be kept moist at all times. Drip irrigation combined with mulching is recommended.
When to Plant: Either plant it in late winter/early spring as soon as the ground is workable, or in late summer/early fall 6-8 weeks before the first frost date.
Planting Depth and Spacing: In rows that are 18 inches apart, sow the seeds directly into the ground ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart. You will thin them as they grow until they are 8-12 inches apart, either adding the young plants you have thinned to the compost pile or adding them to salads or light stir-fry dishes. If you are broadcasting seeds in a block of garden space, you will need to thin them as they grow until they are 8-12 inches apart all around.
Container Requirements: Not really recommended for container gardening, as Bok-Choy, like cabbage and celery, tends to take up a lot of space. However, if you cannot live without Bok-Choy, plant the Canton dwarf variety in a medium- to large-sized container that is at least 8 inches deep. Start with nitrogen-rich soil and keep it moist at all times. Feed with compost tea or a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer such as bloodmeal about halfway through the growing season.
Pests to Monitor: cabbage root flies and white butterflies, flea Bbeetles, slugs and snails.
Harvesting and Storage: Harvest by making a clean slice right above the soil before the plants bolt, or they will be tough and bitter. Be sure to use as soon as possible, as Bok Choy will store for no more than about a week in the refrigerator.
Harvesting Seeds: You can harvest seeds two ways. The first way is to harvest the outer stems/leaves for eating, and then when the plants eventually bolt, stop irrigating them so that the seed pods will dry up. The second way is to grow a portion of your Bok Choy plants strictly for seed, in which case you will not harvest that portion for eating at all, and simply allow them to bolt. Once they bolt, stop irrigating so that the seed pods will dry up.
Either way you choose, make sure the seed pods dry thoroughly before pulling the plants out of the ground. Remove the seeds from the pods (this may require crushing them with a mallet or a rolling pin you don’t mind damaging a bit) and store them in a cool, dry place until time to plant again next season.