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Asian Vegetables for your Cool Season Container Garden

by Fern on October 9, 2009

in Fall Gardening,Fruits & Vegetables,Herbs,Winter Gardening

As I’ve become more adventurous as a cook, I’ve discovered a whole new world of vegetables, leafy greens and herbs common in the various Asian cuisines. Finding those veggies in my local supermarket, however, is usually a challenge. And when I am able to find them, they cost an arm and a leg. Of course, I could hit up an Asian supermarket, but I was thinking that it would be fun to try growing them myself.


Photo of bok choy by Local Food Project

Kat White tells me that she’s had a great experience with Kitazawa Seed, a supplier that specializes in Asian seeds. You’ll be able to find all of these plants (and then some!) in their catalog. They also have a great recipe section if you’re looking for some ways to use your Asian veggies and herbs. Botanical Interests also has a pretty good selection of Asian vegetable seeds.

Salad Greens

There are many salad greens that originated in Asia and have become very popular here in the west. The good news is that they are very easy to grow in containers and you’ll spend a fraction on these greens growing them yourself than you’d pay at the store.

  • Mizuna – Tastes mild, slightly peppery and is great in mesclun salad mixes. Sow the seeds directly in a pot outdoors. You can sow them all winter long in milder climates. Mizuna can tolerate frosts in colder climates and will germinate so long as the temps are in the high 40s.
  • Chinese Cabbage – Tastes sweeter than regular cabbage and is easier to digest. It is great sliced very thinly and used in a salad in a stir-fry, or in a wrap. If you live in a mild-winter climate, sow the seeds directly into a pot outside. However, if you live in a colder climate, sow them indoors and wait until a “head” starts to form before moving them outside. Once established, Chinese Cabbage can tolerate temperatures down to 25 degrees.
  • Komatsuna – Also called Mustard Spinach, this plant tastes like a cross between cabbage and spinach. Sow it immediately or wait until early next spring in all but mild-winter climates. Young leaves are great in salads, while older leaves taste great in stir-frys.

Bok Choy

Baby bok choy tastes great halved, coated and pan fried in a spicy sauce. If you live in a mild climate, you can either sow the seeds directly outside or start them indoors. If you live in and colder area, and you still have a couple of weeks before your first frost, start them indoors. Transplant seedlings outdoors about two weeks later. The seedlings will withstand frost and light freezes.

Snow Peas

Sweet and crunchy, snow peas grow on vines that are only about 2 feet tall and are easy to trellis and maintain on a balcony or patio. Harvest the pods when they are flat, don’t wait until the peas in the pod “pop” out. You might be able to find seedlings at your nursery if you live in zone 7 or lower, but if you live in zone 8 or warmer, you can still direct sow seeds outside.

Chinese Kale

Even though this plant is called “kale” it’s really more like broccoli. It’s sweeter than regular broccoli and can be used when ever and how ever you would use broccoli. The whole plant is edible, including stems, leaves, and florets. If it’s too late for you to plant regular broccoli, it’s also too late for Chinese Kale. But for those of us who live in mild-winter climates, now’s the time to sow those seeds. Start them indoors if you like, or sow them directly in a large pot outside.

Asian Carrots

These roots are extremely juicy chantenay type carrots that are about 8 inches long (so you need a pot that is at least 12 inches deep). If your late December temperatures are expected to be above 25 degrees, you still have time to grow these guys. Be sure to soak the seeds in warm water for 12 hours before sowing to give them a good start.

Mantanghong Radish

Also called watermelon radishes, these radishes are white on the outside and red on the inside. They’re sweet and you can make a great side salad by slicing them very thinly and tossing them with fresh squeeze lime. Sprinkle with a little sugar or sea salt right before serving. If you expect temperatures mostly above 40F for the next 2 months, sow them directly into a pot inside, and once they sprout, bring the pot outdoors. For those of us in mild climates, sow these guys now and all winter long.

Daikon Radish

Prue grew Daikons in pots this past winter in Australia. These roots look like carrots but taste like mild, more complex radishes. Use them in stir-frys, sushi, or salads. If your balcony will stay above 40 for the most part into early December, then sow them into a pot inside and bring the pot outside once the plants have sprouted. The radishes can be harvested at any time after the root has developed, the flavor doesn’t diminish when the root gets larger. Pull them out of the dirt before it freezes though. And be careful pulling them up, they can be brittle.

Have you grown Asian vegetables before? What would you recommend a container gardener to try?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Collin October 9, 2009 at 9:26 am

I tried Bok Choy this year and it’s a fast and high yield plant. Almost every seed you sow will yield a plant.

And you can pik a few young plants after just 3 weeks (depends on the temperature though). A nice addition to what ever you have growing due to this speed.

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Prue October 9, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Great post Fern, and cheers for the mention of Daikon. I am growing some more this spring alongside my cucumbers (apparently they are friends.) All you need is a deep pot and away youn go. But 2 foot snow pea vines??? I wish! Mine hit 2 metres and counting, giants on the balcony garden, but the snow peas were divine. I’ll be growing them again next winter for sure. Bok Choi was lovely too, but it did go to seed very quickly in the Aussie climate.

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Fern October 9, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Prue–Check out a variety called ‘Oregon Sugar Pod.’ It only grows to 28 inches.

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Kat October 9, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Great post Fern. I’m glad you are bringing this to container gardeners attention. Asian vegetables can be a great way to beat the veggie garden blahs.
For a container garden I would do Mizuna in everything. It is so pretty when it gets going. The leaf color is a beautiful green and the leaves are wonderfully notched. They make a pretty filler (much like parsley does). Shiso is also a pretty plant. The purple leafed variety reminds me of coleus. And Vietnamese Corriander is easy to grow in containers and can give me a cilantro fix when I’m in between crops of regular cilantro because it bolts so fast here. I love using it in scrambled eggs.

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