Monday, September 28, 2009

Asian Vegetables in Houston

If we lived in a more moderate climate, we would probably never have ventured into growing unusual (to us) vegetables such as Yu Choy, Chin Chiang, Senposai and Misome.  These greens were all developed in Asia, many of them hybrids, to thrive in hot tropical weather, and they have performed admirably in our garden.  We have enjoyed experimenting with these vegetables in the garden and in the kitchen.

Joy Larkcom's book Oriental Vegetables has been an excellent guide.  She provides detailed information about most Asian vegetables including growing instructions and suggestions for their use in the kitchen.  If you're interested in growing these greens, we recommend sourcing your seeds from specialists such as Evergreen or Kitazawa.  Johnny's and Nichols also offer several interesting Asian greens such as Hon Tsai Tai and Agretti.  All these companies provide useful seed and plant details on their websites.

Here's a primer for the vegetables we're growing:

Known as mustard spinach (although it is actually neither), Larkcom calls Komatsuna "the most underrated vegetable" because of its excellent flavor, garden performance, and versatility in the kitchen.  We started with Senposai, a hybrid created by crossing komatsuna and common cabbage, and it performed so well that we later added several komatsuna and misome (a komatsuna-bok choy cross) varieties to the garden.  

Hybrid Kojisan, Natsu Rakuten - Summer Fest and Tokyo Early:  these are all hybrid komatsuna varieties developed to survive in hot climates.  All three are easy to start from seed and they are very low maintenance even during the hot summer months.  Of the three, Natsu Rakuten is probably the most vigorous grower.

Senposai Hybrid -- the leaves look like cabbage, but unlike cabbage, senposai thrives all summer in full sun with no special care.  Excellent sauteed, and it keeps growing back after harvesting.  The thick purple stems that develope are also edible. 

Pak Choi/Bok Choy
Chin-Chiang Cabbage, Hybrid Tropic Wonder -- Chin-Chiang is a baby bok choy.  As suggested by the name, Tropic Wonder is a hybrid developed especially for hot climates. 

Tatsoi Bok Choy (Pak Choi) White Stem -- Tatsoi is a rosette boy choy.  Conventional wisdom is that rosettes have the best flavor of the various bok choys.  It can be used raw as a baby green, or cooked.  It is very high in minerals, and nutritious.

Misome -- Misome is a hybrid green created by crossing komatsuna and rosette bok choy.  As a group, these greens perform well in hot climates.  They all grow upright, with dark green crinkled leaves.  We have three varieties:  Misome Hybrid, and Japanese Green, and Choho, which is a cross between tatsoi and komatsuna.  These have grown and thrived throughout the summer, and are very pretty in the garden. 

Flowering Brassicas
Hon Tsai Tai -- purple-flowering choy sum.  Mostly grown for its edible flower stalks and flowers.  Hon Tsai Tai should be started in September for fall and winter harvesting.  The purple stems intensify in color in cold weather.  We have ours growing in the front yard border, and the seedlings are attractive.

Yu Choy, Hybrid Leafy Yu Choy -- Yu Choy is edible rape.  Hybrid Leafy Yu Choy is an usuual yu choy because it was developed for its leaves as opposed to the flowering stalks.  This hybrid grows year-round in warm climates, and has done extremely well in our garden.

Mizuna Early Mustard -- We're not huge fans of mustard greens in general, but Mizuna has a nice mild flavor and it is one of the few lettuce greens that grow year-round in Houston.  It can be harvested as a baby green, or left to mature into clumps of large, serrated leaves.  Mizuna can also be used as a cooked green.  Our mizuna is planted in partial sun (about 5 hours per day), and if it is not kept well-watered it starts to fade and wilt.

Bunching Onions
Unlike regular onions, which at least in our garden do not thrive during the summer, bunching onions will grow year-round in Houston.  We have two varieties, Evergreen and Red Beard.  We didn't start them until June, but they survived the summer in grower pots until we got around to transplanting them in September.  These onions do not form a bulb; instead, the stem is used.  They are a nice substitute for traditional onions in the summer garden.


  1. Excellent article about the different types of greens. I cannot wait until next spring and summer to start experimenting myself.

  2. Excellent article!!


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