I never used to eat Bok Choy. Never.
I didn’t even know for sure how to pronounce it, let alone how to eat it. It can be even confusing in how you spell it’s name. If you see two main references: Pak choi and bok choy — don’t be alarmed… they are the one and same plant and considered part of the mustard family. Normally these plants are a bit smaller Chinese cabbage with leafy, green leaves and white stalks that have a bit of a crunch but not as stiff as celery — sort of the texture of water cress. Pak choi or bok choy, mostly grows in Asian regions like the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.
Have you seen it in the grocery store? That’s where I first noticed it and also the very reason I never tried it. Whenever I would see it in the grocery store it would be floppy limp — ewe. Gross.
But every year, I commit myself to learning how to grow at least one new plant and a couple of years ago, Bok Choy was the one that I determined to tackle growing in my vertical garden Tower Garden hydroponic growing system (what is this?). When I actually tasted this plant straight off of the Tower Garden at it’s peak… well I fell in love with it as my new green go-to. This plant wasn’t meant to travel for days and days and sit on a grocery store shelf — it’s meant to be eaten freshly harvested.
Why I love to grow these cute little plants…
- They grow fast. I’m a girl that likes to see some success from my efforts and these little bundles of green goodness are ready to start harvesting in 4-6 weeks.
- You don’t harvest them like they harvest Bok Choy for feeding the masses. You’re missing out on this prolific little plant that produces leave after leaf from the center. All you have to do is continue to harvest the outer leaves and maintain the center three leaves for continual growth (about a 6-8 week continual growth with multiple harvests from the same plant). When the plant grows a bloom you know your harvest period has ended and you can swap out the plant for a new seedling waiting in the wings to go into your hydroponic growing system.
- Did you know that Bok Choy ranks sixth on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) for fruits and vegetables and is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods? I especially like that it is full of beneficial antioxidants and fights inflammation in the body. DRI/DV from this plant include: vitamin K (64% DRI/DV), vitamin C (59% DRI/DV), vitamin A (40%), folate (17%), calcium (16%), vitamin B6 (16%), and potassium (13%).
- And I love how the leaves curl down and out a bit — sort of reminds me of a little bridal bouquet.
Varieties to try:
- Purple Lady Bok Choy from RareSeeds.com is a beautiful plant and chock-full of antioxidants with it’s purple leaves and my new favorite Bok Choy to grow. (Remember half the fun of growing your own food is trying new vegetables you can’t find at your local supermarket!)
- White Stem Bok Choy from SeedsNow are a great starting point. If you want to try it without committing to a lot of seed to save, this is a great option (plant shown above).
Things to know as you grow Bok Choy / Pak Choi…
- SEED STARTING: I typically see seeds germinate within 48-72 hours if using seeds from the previous growing season. I plant into rock wool and here are the conditions I recommend:
- PLANTING TIMING: Transplant Bok Choy / Pak Choi starts outdoors into your Tower Garden hydroponic growing system as close to your freeze date as possible. You may want to add a water heater like this one for any freeze warnings and have a lightweight weather protection blanket specifically designed to fit a Tower Garden with one extension and have it on the ready to put over the seedlings should you get an unforeseen late freeze warning. To find the local last frost date for your area, I like this resource (less ads than the Farmer’s Almanac web site.)
Ideal Tower Garden Hydroponic Growing Conditions for Bok Choy:
Hydroponic Growing Conditions:
- TEMP: Like cabbage, this plant likes to grow at 55ºF-76ºF temperature meaning it’s a spring or fall plant or grow indoors. Avoid the hot summers.
- LIGHT: They tend to like 7-10 hours of light, so if you’re growing them indoors, don’t push them with extra light hours, it may actually end up slowing their growth.
- PPM/EC: 1050-1400 ppm and 1.5-2.0 EC. I recommend using Tower Tonic for a well-rounded supply of minerals that will benefit you nutritionally when the plant is harvested. I use this meter and keep it in the PPM range of around 1200.
- pH: Keep plants in a pH range of 5.5-6.5. I use this pH meter and this pH up and pH down to maintain the range. (Remember, plants need to be in ideal pH range for uptake of nutrients / minerals to occur.)
- Air movement is always a good idea with any plants you are growing, but we are not looking for windy air circulation, just a slight breeze or moving air in the room.
- Final Tip: When growing hydroponically indoors, your timer will need to be set to 15 min on and 30 minutes off. If you want to keep this plant happy, add an aerator to your reservoir. It likes to have oxygenated water—a little more than just the aeroponic benefits that typically the Tower Garden provides on most occasions. (If you’re running your Tower Garden continuously outdoors during the day, you can skip the aerator.)
Pests and Diseases to be on the lookout for while growing Pak Choi:
- PESTS: Aphids like this plant as well, so plant marigolds and petunias in the area (may even put some pots at the base of your Tower Garden) and do spot checks periodically on the stems and under those bodaciously beautiful green leaves. If you see aphids moving in, rub your thumb across the plant henceforth squashing them. You can follow-up with a spray treatment of Neem Oil. Once you get aphids, if you don’t eradicate them quickly, they will multiply every three days and may take your entire crop so heed my warning and spot check every day or so under those leaves and towards the base of the plant.
How I incorporate Bok Choy / Pak Choi into my meals for nutritional benefit…
- Dice up quinoa and add it to your cooked quinoa
- I love it in the wonderful Coconut Chicken Bok Choy Soup that warms your tummy and satisfies — my husband claims it’s better than the one he eats at the local Thai place in Atlanta! (Whoop whoop!)
- Instead of going for traditional lettuce, put on top of your next homemade burger to add some crunch and nutritional benefit
- Dice and throw it on top of chickpea salad for added “crunch”
- Add to any super-food smoothie for a power-packed nutritional drink on the go
Our Exclusive Bok Choy / Pak Choi Cheat Sheet and Seed Organizer
(Great for your seed stash organization and quick reference)