Bok choy: Homegrown greens, made for the shade

Recent rains have been ideal for one of the fastest growing greens in the garden: bok choy and its many variants. Quick to bolt (set seed) in hotter temperatures, bok choy (Brassica rapa) flourishes under drizzly skies, doing just fine in the shady part of the garden where nothing ever seems to grow.

Originally from Southeast Asia, bok choy is a cut-and-come-again plant, able to deliver waves of harvests. The youngest leaves are the best. Depending on the variety, they are ready to eat after 20 to 50 days. Bok choy may be steamed, stir-fried, boiled or eaten raw. It’s sweet and slightly crunchy and has more body than spinach, for which it can serve as a substitute.

A wonderful variety of plants is available as seeds. Kitazawa Seed Co. has 20 types, from dwarfs to giants, in a rainbow of hues: purple, red, gold, green and white. The leaves can be frilly, flat, spoon-shaped, with a taste that ranges from subtle to sharp, sweet to mustard-flavored.

Phyllis Hauser, a gardener at Manzanita Street Community Garden in Silver Lake, said she loves eating bok choy.


“I wondered what it was like to be able to pick it and eat it right away,” she said.

A vegetarian since 1989, Hauser put her bok choy in the shadiest corner of her north-facing plot and has been surprised at how much the plants have grown after only a week. Part of the credit may go to the fluffy soil, which drains well but retains some moisture.

The plants are in a raised bed that Hauser built last year with lasagna-like layers of straw, horse manure, compost, fertilizer and worm castings. She topped it off with a sprinkling of bark.

“Over time it’s composting into itself,” she said, adding that the bed used to be about a foot and a half taller. A layer of chicken wire in the middle discourages the skunks and feral cats that like to dig up the soft soil.

In my garden, a slow-moving plague of slugs and snails has attacked the first seedlings I got at Sunset Nursery. My solution? Buy more plants for a different part of the garden, then wait and see how all the plants -- new and old -- do. Bok choy grows so quickly, the first batch just might recover.