Renee Shepherd of Felton, California, can make dinner in 7 to 10 minutes. Her secret? She harvests fresh greens from her garden, then whips up stir-fry meals around them. She favors tender young mustard leaves, curly kale, and crunchy-stemmed baby bok choy, or pak choi. “I heat some peanut oil, throw in minced garlic and ginger, maybe some beef strips and tofu chunks. After a few minutes, I add a mix of greens and cook them quickly. Voilà―a nice, healthy dinner.”
Rose Marie Nichols McGee of Albany, Oregon, likes to stir-fry greens from different parts of the world, mixing Tuscan kale, Shanghai pak choi, and Japanese mizuna. “Greens are cross-continental, so it’s one-world, one-pot cooking,” she says.
Shepherd and McGee, who both own seed companies, are just two of many gardener-cooks who have discovered the pleasures of cultivating leafy greens. Growing your own from seed gives you the greatest selection. If you’re intimidated by seeds, don’t be―these crops grow quickly. We tried many varieties in Sunset’s test garden; our top-rated choices are pictured above.
From Planting to Harvest
In mild-winter climates, start seeds in August or September. In hot inland valleys or low desert areas, wait until late September or October. In cold-winter areas (Sunset climate zones 1–3), sow no later than early August, or wait until spring to plant.
Sow seeds directly in fertile soil in a sunny spot. Plant in rows according to package instructions, or broadcast seeds in blocks by variety. Cover seeds lightly with ½ inch of fine soil or compost; keep seedbed evenly moist. Protect from birds with floating row covers or netting. When the first true leaves appear, thin seedlings to 1 inch apart (use thinnings in stir-fries).
To harvest leaves, wait until plants are about 6 inches tall. Then, using scissors, cut leaves 1 to 2 inches above soil level; for baby bok choy, snap off leaves at the base. Water well and fertilize lightly with diluted fish emulsion. Plants will sprout new leaves for more harvestings.
Sources: Mix your own seeds or buy a packaged seed blend such as Renee’s Stirfry Mix Pan-Pacific Greens, which contains Asian red kale, baby bok choy, mizspoona (a cross between mizuna and tatsoi), and red mustard.
Nichols Garden Nursery (NGN); 800/422-3985
Territorial Seed Company; 541/942-9547
Renee’s Garden Seeds; 888/880-7228