Planting Bok Choy: How To Grow Bok Choy
By: Laura Miller
Growing bok choy (Brassica rapa) is an excellent way to extend the gardening season. As a cool-season crop, planting bok choy in late summer allows gardeners to utilize garden space which is freed up when earlier crops are done for the year. Bok choy is frost hardy, so it continues to grow after cold weather has eliminated insects and pests.
How to Grow Bok Choy
As a fall crop, bok choy care is simple. It can be direct-seeded ¼ to ½ inch (6 to 13 mm.) deep in rich, fertile garden soil. In areas where rains create saturated conditions, good drainage is recommended. Fall crops can be planted in full sun. Planting bok choy in small batches every two weeks will supply a steady and continuous harvest.
Planting bok choy for a spring crop is more challenging. As a biennial, bok choy is extremely prone to bolting. This occurs when exposure to frost or extended temperatures below 50 degrees F. (10 C.) is followed by a rise in temperatures. Winter conditions, followed by a warm spell, triggers bok choy into its second-year flowering stage.
To prevent spring crops from bolting, try starting seedlings indoors 4 weeks before the final frost date. Use a quality seed starting soil mix into which bok choy seeds can be sowed to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch (6 to 13 mm.). Then hold off transplanting bok choy into the garden until all danger of cold weather has passed. Space plants 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm.) apart and mulch to keep soil cool and moist.
To further discourage bolting when growing bok choy as a spring crop, try planting bok choy in partial shade and keep it well-watered. Growing the smaller or “baby” varieties of bok choy can also help as they mature 10 to 14 days sooner than the standard size.
Additionally, growing bok choy as a spring crop leaves it more vulnerable to pests, such as cabbage loopers, flea beetles and aphids. Row covers may be necessary in order to harvest blemish-free leaves.
When to Harvest Bok Choy
The mature size of bok choy depends upon the variety. The standard varieties can reach 12 to 24 inches (30 to 61 cm.) tall, while baby bok choy matures under 10 inches (25 cm.). However, harvesting bok choy can begin as soon as usable leaves have developed.
Young, tender plants which were culled when thinning bok choy can be used in fresh salads or tossed in stir fries. Some standard-size varieties can also be picked young and resemble baby bok choy plants.
It’s best to monitor spring crops for early signs of flowering. If plants begin to bolt, harvest immediately to prevent total loss of the crop. Fall crops can often be held in the garden until needed and remain usable even after frosts and light freezes. To harvest, use a knife to cut the plant at ground level.
Whenever possible, plan to harvest bok choy in usable amounts, as it has a much shorter shelf life and is more difficult to preserve than other members of the cabbage family. When stored unwashed in a plastic bag, bok choy lasts about 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
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Published March 31, 2021, 10:00 AM
There are over 400 different types of cabbages available around the world, each with a distinct set of characteristics. Among these varieties is the bok choy or Chinese cabbage. It was once limited to Chinese restaurants and meals but nowadays, it’s enjoyed by people everywhere and can even be seen growing in several backyards or urban gardens.
Erlinda Manganti, a stay-at-home mom, is one urban gardener who grows bok choy as a way to provide her family with fresh food and lessen their costs from buying vegetables in the market.
“Lumaki talaga ako sa probinsya kaya mahilig kaming maghalaman. It’s a passion. At the same time, gusto namin makatipid at mabawasan ang gastos sa pagkain lalo na nung panahon ng pandemic. Malaki ang natulong ng garden namin sa pang-araw-araw na pagkain,” she said. (I grew up in the province which is why I’m interested in planting. It’s a passion. At the same time, we wanted to save up and cut costs on food especially during this pandemic. The garden helped a lot with our daily consumption.)
The stay-home-mom started her garden from kitchen scraps. Once her plants started to bear fruit or be ready for harvesting, she sold some, and the money earned from this was used to buy other vegetable seeds and loam soil to further her gardening efforts.
Presently, the stay-at-home mom grows a variety of vegetables such as ampalaya, eggplant, lettuce, arugula, and more. She also grows mulberry and butterfly pea which she and her family use for tea.
Among all these other vegetables, Manganti also grows bok choy and managed to harvest a good amount of it during the previous season.
How she grew bok choy
Bok choy is usually grown during the cool season, which makes it tolerant to cold conditions. It has crisp stalks that are surrounded by tender leaves that taste similar to cabbage. Aside from being grown during the cold season, bok choy can also be planted a few months before the dry season so that it can be harvested before the temperature rises.Bok choy is one of the many crops that Manganti grows.
Manganti grew her bok choy from seeds. She began by planting its seeds in fertile soil in containers to make sure that these germinated.
“‘Pag lumabas na ang at least dalawang dahon, pwede na itong i-transfer. Yung iba kasi hinihintay pa ang true leaves bago i-transfer,” she said. (When at least two leaves sprouted from the seeds, the plants can be transferred. Some wait for the true leaves to come out before they transfer it.)
Once her germinated bok choy plants have been transferred to a more suitable and larger container with fertile, well-draining soil, Manganti exercised proper care on her plants by watering them and adding natural inputs.
“Magandang pangdilig ang pinaghugasan ng bigas o diligan [ang bok choy] ng dalawang beses sa isang araw,” she said. (The water used for washing rice is ideal to use when watering or [the bok choy] can be watered twice in one day.)To make sure that her bok choy grows healthily, Manganti waters it regularly and even adds natural inputs to promote growth and keep it safe from pests.
Aside from the water used to wash rice, Manganti also waters her bok choy once a week with grass-clipping tea which is made from steeping the stems and leaves of plants in water. She also adds other inputs such as fermented plant juice (FPJ) made from kamote leaves, alugbati, kangkong, and brown sugar to strengthen the stems, as well as Oriental Herbal Nutrient (OHN) to keep her bok choy free from leaf miner bugs and other pests that eat her plants’ leaves.
“Ganyan lang ang aking ginagawa hanggang ready to harvest na sila,” she said. (“This all I do until they’re ready to harvest.)
According to Manganti, seeing her vegetables healthy and thriving brings her happiness and fulfillment, especially when her whole family gets to share in consuming them.Produce from her urban garden are used in various dishes which her family enjoys.
With the right inputs and a passion to grow plants, Manganti and her family can enjoy bok choy along with other vegetables without having to pay more.
Photos from Emerald Pearl and Linda’s Garden and Kitchen 2 on Facebook
When to Harvest Bok Choy
Bok choy is flexible like lettuce in that it’s valuable as a baby product as well as a full-grown head. Baby bok choy are harvestable in as little as 30 days from transplanting. Full-grown heads will reach maturity at around 60 days.
Cutting bok choy off at the base with a sharp knife is best any time it’s big enough to eat. Baby bok choy with as little as four or five leaves can be cooked whole. Don’t try to twist or snap the plant off since it has a wide and strong base. Nothing will grow back, so remove the base and roots after cutting.
When to Harvest: Any time after reaching 4-6 inches in height | Number of Harvests: Single
Bok choy, also called Chinese cabbage, and its very similar relative pac choi, sometimes called celery cabbage, are Chinese vegetables that resemble white-stemmed Swiss chard. In Chinese the names mean "white vegetable" even though the leaves are green and it's only the stems and veins that are white. Varieties vary considerably in leaf size and shape, but all are mild-tasting greens that are used widely in Chinese recipes.
Bok choy is a cool-weather crop that will quickly bolt (go to seed) in hot weather. Oddly, it will also bolt if the weather gets too cold (below 50 degrees) when it is young. For this reason it's best to start bok choy indoors about a month before the last frost, and then transplant it outdoors after the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees. Some new varieties are less prone to bolting and will tolerate both heat and cold quite well. To avoid transplant shock, plant seeds in individual cells or soil blocks. Thin to one seedling per pot by using scissors to snip off competing seedlings at the soil level.
Bok choy is a heavy feeder. It needs rich soil with plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Be sure to add plenty of compost and some organic fertilizer to the soil at planting time. It grows best in full sun, but can tolerate some shade. In hot climates, afternoon shade is good because it will delay bolting. If some of the plants do begin to flower, the flowers are tasty in salads. Don't let the plants set seed as they'll spread themselves through your garden and plants will be popping up everywhere for years to come.
Flea beetles love bok choy and will pepper the leaves with little holes. The easiest prevention is to cover the plants with garden fabric (row covers) to keep the beetles from reaching the leaves.
Once the head has firmed up, it's best to harvest bok choy in its entirety. Pac choi can be harvested leaf by leaf, taking the outside leaves and allowing the center of the plant to grow more leaves. If you harvest the entire plant at once, cut it off with a sharp knife and leave the roots in the ground. Give it some liquid fertilizer and it will produce another plant.