Exotic Asian Greens to Plant for Fall
If you want to try growing something a little different in your vegetable garden this fall, check out these Asian greens. Healthy and flavorful, these Asian varieties are also useful in numerous ways: Harvest baby leaves or flowers for fresh salads; mature greens and stalks are useful in stews, stir-frys and soups; or, try braising them for flavorful side dishes. The cultivars also offer color and texture variation that looks great in the garden.
How to plant Asian greens
Several of these greens will probably not be available at your big-box garden center. You can order them online from seed retailers like Johnny's Selected Seeds, Botanical Interests or Kitazawa Seed Company.
Most Asian greens varieties like moist, fertile and slightly acidic soil. Select a sunny site and thoroughly mix in a layer of compost at least 12 inches deep. Sow the seeds to package specification (most of them are about 2 inches apart and 1/4 inches deep). Water the seeds and keep the surface moist until germination, about 5 to 10 days. Thin seedlings to package-suggested spacing.
Types of Asian greens
Yin tsai is also called Chinese spinach or edible amaranth. This fast-growing green is well-suited to plant in summer through early fall while temperatures are still warm. It grows quickly and can be harvested in 30 days. Use the leaves and soft stems as you would use spinach. It is often used in stir-fry or soup. You can also use thinned seedlings in salads.
Kai-lan is also known as Chinese broccoli. This is a true cool-season vegetable, being of similar lineage as Western broccoli. It can be harvested in 65 days—if left to regrow, multiple harvests may be had thanks to its tendency to produce secondary shoots. Harvest when the buds are well-formed, but not yet opened. Succulent stems, collard-like foliage, and buds like broccoli raab give this exotic vegetable a very familiar appearance. Kailan has a distinct flavor, but is similar enough to be interchangeable with broccoli. Stir-fry with garlic and ginger for a traditional flavor that pairs well with fish, chicken or other meats.
Yu choy, or edible rape, is another Eastern member of the Brassica family. It prefers mild temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees for optimal growth. When harvested for greens only, it is called “yu choy”. When allowed to produce flower buds prior to harvest (which takes approximately 40 days from seed), it is called "yu choy sum". Try yu choy lightly steamed or stir-fried.
Komatsuna is also called Japanese mustard spinach. This is a quick-growing, cool weather-loving, small-leafed green that is ready to harvest in 35 days. As the name implies, the flavor can be pungent, especially mature leaves. Use baby leaves and thinnings in salads, or mature leaves in braised greens mixes.
Mizuna is a mild-flavored mustard green of Japanese origin. It works well as a cut-and-come-again crop and can produce for several weeks as such. If growing for mature leaves, the crop will mature in about 40 days. Leaves are delicious in stir-frys and salads.
Daikon is the long white Japanese radish. I’ve included it because—like other root veggies—the greens are just as useful as the roots. The root is mature in 45 days, but greens may be harvested lightly beginning a few weeks earlier. Use them sauteed, stir-fried, or raw in salads.
Kokabu (kabu) is the Japanese white turnip. This is another root vegetable with often-overlooked tops. The root matures in 40 days, but harvest greens beginning at around 30 days. Use them as you would any other turnip green.
Tatsoi is also called rosette bok choy. It is ready to harvest as baby greens in 21 days, with fully-mature rosettes appearing in 45 days. It has a pleasant, mild mustard flavor, making it popular for salads. Tatsoi is one of the more cold-tolerant greens, laying flat against the ground in cold
Shungiku is garland chrysanthemum. The greens can be used at any stage before flowering, and are best when harvested between 21 and 45 days. They are served under various pseudonyms all over East Asia in soups, stews and stir-frys. They are great in salads as well.