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Crisp And Crunchy: Chinese Cabbage Bok Choy

by a Friendly Gardener
Bok Choy Gardening

What Is Bok Choy?

Crisp and crunchy white or green stalks surrounded with tender smooth leaves characterize the garden vegetable known as Bok Choy. Often referred to as Chinese cabbage, this vegetable is a biennial plant that is harvested normally in its first year of growth. With its unusual name and if you are not an aficionado of Chinese cuisine, you may wonder what does bok choy tastes like?  Bok choy has a taste that may be described as a crossover between chard and cabbage and has become ever more popular in North American diets. Now it can be found in numerous backyard gardens. It’s no longer necessary to go to your local Chinese restaurant in order to enjoy it.

There are white and green varieties of this vegetable and the growing size may depend on the variety you choose to cultivate. Some varieties reach heights of up to two feet tall with a plant spread of about a foot, while other varieties may reach heights of less than ten inches. This is a vegetable for cooler seasons that forms a head with leaves that flare out to the sides. The stalks appear very similar to celery stalks but are not stringy in texture. If the plant flowers, the blooms will grow in the center and are yellow-petaled. The blooms have the form of a cross which is typical of the cruciferous family of plants.

The ideal period of planting will depend on when you want to harvest. If you want to enjoy your harvest in early summer, you will need to plant in early spring. If you aim for an autumn harvest, you should plant in the second half of the summer.


Varieties of Bok Choy

There are numerous varieties of bok choy. Often, however, seed packets will not specify the type. Some common types include:

  • “Black Summer” with dark leaves
  • “Ching-Chiang” is perfect for early spring planting
  • “Joi Choi” which offers good bolt resistance
  • “Win-win” that grows large heads

Another variety worth mentioning is Mei Qing Choi which is a dwarf bok choy that grows in roughly thirty-five days.

Hands holding bok choy in baskets

How to Grow Bok Choy

Bok choy is a relatively easy vegetable to grow, and it actually grows pretty quickly. You can plant it directly from seeds in your garden after all frost danger has passed or you can germinate seeds indoors before transplanting them into your garden. To grow bok choy directly in your garden, sow the seeds about ten days before your last estimated frost date. Seeds should germinate within eight days. Plant the seeds about a half-inch deep and one inch apart. Thin your crop and harvest and eat your plants when they grow to a couple of inches in height. If you want to grow a full-sized bok choy, you should thin them out until they are about six inches between plants.

If you choose to grow bok choy indoors, you should begin about four weeks before that last frost is estimated to take place. Another option is to purchase seedlings from your local nursery, and these will also need to be planted in your garden after any danger of frost has passed. Transplant the seedlings when your nighttime temperature remains at 50° F or above. If you transplant earlier, the seedlings should be covered. Seedlings that are exposed to cold or frost will react as if they have experienced winter and rush to bolt.

Hang with white glove transplanting seedlings in soil

Bok choy may grow flower blooms if the weather is too hot. However, it may do the same if by chance it is exposed to frost while very young. If your weather is variable, going from cool to warm or vice versa, you may be on the safer side to germinate your seedlings indoors, moving them outdoors only after the weather has stabilized.

Bok choy will require at least three to five hours of sun daily. While it can tolerate full direct sun, it loves some shade and grows best when enjoying the partial shade. Soil should be well fertilized, mixed with organic matter and it should be well-draining. The preferred pH level is 6.5 to 7. This vegetable prefers soil that has lots of phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. Feeding bok choy plants should be done preferably with organic matter at the time of planting and not chemically during its period of growth. Daily watering is a must, especially in the fall. Any type of drought will cause it to bolt for seeding.

Bok choy grows best in a cooler climate. It is not winter hardy, however, it may do well in winter if it is adequately covered. The true challenge to growing this vegetable is to avoid it bolting to seed.

Bok Choy

Diseases and Pests

This delicious “cabbage” is also very appetizing for various insects including:


Cabbage loopers

Cabbage worms

Flea Beetles



So be on the lookout for any unwanted guests in your garden.


How to Cut Bok Choy

Hands holding a knife cutting bok choy

Your bok choy crop should be harvest-ready at any time from forty-five to sixty days after the seeds have germinated. Much will depend on the variety you have planted and your area’s weather. If you hope to achieve a second growth from your bok choy, the plants should be cut about one inch from the ground. The part of the plant that remains in the ground should resprout. The second harvest may be smaller in size but just as tasty.


How to Clean Bok Choy

Bok choy is edible in its entirety. Leaves and stalks may be cooked or steamed, as well as eaten raw in salads.

As any dirt on the plant usually will sit at the bottoms of the stalks, you will need to separate the stalks, cut off the very ends of these stalks and wash the bok choy in cold water, rubbing gently to remove any garden dirt. Washing is similar to washing lettuce leaves.


How to Store Bok Choy

Bok choy can be stored in several ways.

  • After it has been washed you should blot the leaves and stacks with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Then wrap the leaves singly in paper towels and place them in Ziploc bags. Place them in the crisp drawer of your refrigerator and they should last for at least five to six days.
  • Place stalks in ice-cold water in a jar and refrigerate. They should be consumed within two days.
  • You can also store bok choy without washing it. Simply place it in a Ziploc bag and poke holes in the bag for air circulation. The bok choy should last for up to four days.
  • Blanch cleaned the bok choy by placing it in boiling water for two minutes. Remove and immediately plunge into ice-cold water. Dry the leaves thoroughly and place them in an airtight plastic bag and freeze.
  • To freeze without blanching, clean the bok choy without washing, using only paper towels. Cut off the base and separate the stems wiping them carefully. Now chop the bok choy into pieces, place it in a freezer bag and transfer it to your freezer.

Other Considerations

While bok choy is not toxic, if too much is eaten raw, it can create difficulties for the thyroid gland because of an enzyme it contains. This problem is not present when eating cooked bok choy.

Bok Choy Plant

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