Lauterbach: Chill with Asian veggies

Special to The Idaho StatesmanSeptember 12, 2013 


This pak choi, or Chinese cabbage, is barely two weeks old. The appeal of translucent white stems topped by heart-shaped leaves make them a super choice for additions to soups, salads and sandwiches.


When you consider growing cold-tolerant nutritious food through our winters, consider Asian vegetables, especially the greens. Most have a green mustard taste, some more piquant or hotter than others.

Taste preferences differ. Some folks love the taste of green mustards, others do not. Asian plants, mainly greens, grow at a temperature of 43 degrees and above. When temperatures are colder than that, there’s no growth, and plants are also dormant in the period when we have less than 10 hours of daylight each day.

Hardiest vegetables are mustard greens and komatsuna. If you’ve grown them in spring, you probably have marveled or been disgusted by the lacy appearance of the leaves after flea beetles have eaten for a few days. They’re not eating in fall, so you shouldn’t have that problem.

Komatsuna, incidentally, is a very fast-growing green, ready for harvest in 35 days from sowing seed. It isn’t a mustard or a cabbage, but is a green leafy vegetable sometimes called Japanese mustard spinach.

Even komatsuna and green (or red) mustards cannot withstand the combination of cold temperatures and wind, so put up shelter or at least wind barriers if you grow any of them.

Some Chinese cabbages, such as pak choi and edible chrysanthemum are tolerant of some frosty temperatures, but they’re not as hardy as komatsuna and mustards. Sheltering from wind and covering with agricultural fleece or row cover helps keep fragile plants alive and thriving. Plastic cover is poor at preserving the warmth of earth, so use Reemay or another agricultural fleece instead.

If you’re growing Chinese cabbage, it’s crucial for you to gather up outer leaves and tie them together, as you’d blanch cauliflower. Use string, since sunlight deteriorates plastic or rubber bands. Tying leaves of Chinese cabbage allows the interior growth of the head to be protected by the outer leaves. At least for a time, the air trapped inside between the cover of outer leaves and the growing head acts as an insulator.

Chinese cabbages such as napa and michihili are easily preserved in cool temperatures, not exposed to ethylene gas (emitted by apples), although they’ll withstand several light frosts outdoors prior to harvest.

Asians often preserve cabbages such as these for winter use by fermenting into kim chee.

Another Asian vegetable available in ground year-round is the Chinese leek or garlic chives. Many of us started growing this because the plants sport pretty white flowers on tall stems. Most of us didn’t realize we could consume the leaves.

Leaves are strap-like, unlike the hollow leaves of regular chives. They have a mild garlic flavor. Chinese folks using these leeks harvest them below soil surface, claiming the white soil-blanched portions are the best part of these leeks.

They are difficult to remove because of the depth of their roots when you try to dig them out of beds they’ve established themselves in. The pretty white blossoms do turn to seeds dispersed by rodents, birds and wind.

There are some seed racks in the valley that carry Asian seeds or order them from Kitazawa, New Dimension or

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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