Short post this month with a recommendation! If you like growing leafy greens, particularly the Asian varieties, but sometimes find the taste too bitter or spicy, here’s a good choice: Tokyo Bekana.
This is a Japanese variety of Chinese cabbage, Brassica rapa chinensis. It forms a loose head over time, but can be harvested at any stage. I’m growing it this spring in a raised trough planter, but on the edges where the soil is pretty shallow. It could be grown in containers or a salad table, as well as in raised beds or in-ground gardens. Because it’s a brassica, it’s subject to the usual pests, so you should consider using floating row cover or some other insect protection.
The benefits of Tokyo Bekana, besides that striking light green color, are its mild flavor (almost lettuce-like, though with a touch of bitter bite amidst the sweetness), and its quick growth. Even in shallow soil, it’s outpaced everything else in my planter, including another type of Chinese cabbage given more room for the roots. It’s also compact, so you can fit it into small spaces between other plantings.
So far I have used it in a stir-fry, where the thin leaves wilted but didn’t melt into nothingness, and the thick white stems stayed nice and crunchy. Pam Dawling, farmer at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, recommends it for a lettuce substitute in the summer – and yes, she grows it into the hot months! You can read about how she does it in a blog post here. Mine is actually starting to bolt, but that may be due to stress over our wild temperature swings. If I can keep it going a couple more weeks I will be happy.
Tokyo Bekana seeds are available from many seed companies; check your favorites. It should grow well in the fall also, and its fast growth rate means it could be started when you start lettuce. Give it a try!
By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener