Growing Pak Choi
Pak choi is that scrumptious Chinese cabbage you find in healthy stir fries and salads. Steam it, fry it, or eat it raw, drenched in yummy soy sauce. You can even whisk it up into a healthy super shake with your juicer.
These leafy greens are an excellent source of vitamins K and C, and jam-packed full of calcium for healthy teeth and bones. More filling than it looks, pak choi provides masses of nutrients for very few calories, so it makes a great food for holding off cravings when you are on a diet.
Growing it is a simple matter, the only real problem that might occur is some bolting but with more and more bolt resistant varieties around, that is becoming less of a problem. The plant grows like other leaf vegetables, so there are mature and cut and come again varieties. It is very hardy and will crop during autumn and even winter.
Read on if you want to know how to grow prize-winning pak choi.
Varieties are determined by their colour and whether or not they are cut and come again. Colour-wise there are green-stemmed and white-stemmed pak choi types. Green-stemmed varieties tend to taste a little nicer than the white-stemmed ones but white-stemmed pak choi is traditional in Chinese cooking.
Here are some good pak choi cultivars:
Long White is the traditional and most-common Chinese pak choi. It is the one most often used in oriental cooking, and it can even be dried and crushed like a herb to be used for flavouring dishes. Long White is a reliable and hardy crop with a tasty and crispy texture.
As the name suggests, Green Revolutions is a green stemmed pak choi. You can sow it in spring or autumn. It has a compact shape resists bolting and grows rapidly. It tastes fantastic, especially on salads.
Bonsai is a dwarf variety with crinkly leaves that grows very quickly. It is cut and come again and bolt-resistant. It is this type that we consider ‘baby Chinese greens’.
Canton Choice comes from the colder Cantonese climate and as such is very hardy in British weather. It is a white-stemmed type and is very popular in the Chinese south where it is a constant addition to soups and stir fries. Will survive the harshest winters.
Pak Choi is grown from seed. Excess heat causes bolting, so it is best to plant in spring and autumn when the weather is cooler.
Sow seeds a month before the last frost in springtime, or in late summer/early autumn. You can sow them into pots or straight into the ground, it is entirely up to you.
Keep watering the seeds until they begin to sprout. When seedlings appear, thin them out so there is one every 10 cm (4”) or so. Beware that vile slugs and greedy birds might gobble up the seeds and young plants.
Planting (In the Ground)
If you have chosen to plant in pots, then start transplanting outdoors when the seedlings are about 5 cm (2”) tall. If you have sown a spring crop, wait until the last frost has passed. If the weather is notably harsh, then you can plant the young Pak Choi under fleece until it warms up, this will also keep pests off them.
Dig over a bed that gets around 6 hours of sun per day. Work the soil well and add a few bags of compost before raking to a fine consistency.
Make holes in the ground with a broom handle or the end of your rake about 23 cm (9”) apart. Plant your seedlings into the holes and firm down well around the roots before watering thoroughly.
Water your pak choi little and often, don’t drench the plants, even when it is dry. If the weather gets very hot then try to keep them cool by mulching around the stems or covering them over. You should not let the plants get more than 8 hours direct sunlight per day or they will bolt.
Around the middle of the growing season you can add more compost around the bases of the plants for an excellent crop.
The major problems you will encounter are pests and diseases, since unfortunately, pak choi are afflicted by all of the usual suspects that attack other brassicas. That includes slugs, snails, beetles, aphids and cabbage worms. If you are gardening organically, all you can really do is pick them off with your fingers or turn the hosepipe on them full force. Yet another reason to build that pond and get some frogs on the job (See our article on ponds).
Pak Choi can also be brought down by black rot and yellow virus, there is not much you can do about that either except to plant disease resistant cultivars. If you find any affected plant whip it out of the ground quick and burn it before the plague spreads.
Mature pak choi varieties will be ready around two to three months after sowing. Either chop off the heads at soil level with a sharp knife, or pull out the whole plant.
Give the heads a squeeze test first and if they feel firm they are ready. You need to harvest them at just the right time, in the period between when they are ready and when seed stalks start coming. So keep an eye out for those seed stalks because they signal that the plant is getting ready to bolt, and when it does it will lose its shape and go ropey.
Cut and come again varieties can be harvested after only a few weeks. Just slice away the leaves and the plant should sprout again. You can cut them up to 3 times.
When your plants are finished make sure to remove the roots from the soil and compost them in order to prevent disease spreading in the bed. You can keep pak choi in the fridge for about a month, blanch it and freeze it to store for longer, or leave it out in the sun to dry.
Have fun growing this wonderful oriental vegetable!