Growing Chinese Cabbage

Consider planting this for an exotic, high-yield vegetable in your late garden.

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    Chinese cabbage is an unusual, easy-to-grow addition to your vegetable garden.

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Looking for an exotic, flavorful, high-yield vegetable for your late garden? Consider Chinese cabbage!

Pe-tsai (literally, "white vegetable") is nothing new to the Chinese gardeners who've been growing the delicious crop for close to 2,000 years. To American gardeners, however, "Chinese cabbage" remains largely unknown.

Which is a shame . . . because this heavy-yielding member of the mustard family not only [A] grows rapidly in cool fall weather and [B] shows remarkable pest resistance, but [C] produces a head of distinctive, mild flavor . . . with none of the stomach-upsetting qualities of the more familiar European cabbage.

You'll recognize Chinese cabbage by its tall, columnar head, which measures up to 20 inches long and 5 or more inches in diameter. The tightly wrapped, albino leaves of the head make a fine slaw and are excellent cooked or used as a "surprise ingredient" in a tossed salad. In addition, the long, thick-ribbed outer leaves of the head—which resemble stalks of celery (hence the plant's alternate name, "celery cabbage")—make tasty cottage cheese boats and savory additions to soups and stews.

Chinese cabbage isn't at all hard to grow, provided you satisfy the plant's few simple needs . . . the primary requirement being cool weather for the greater part of the vegetable's 70- to 80-day maturation period. (It'll bolt and go to seed at the slightest hint of summer-like weather.) Here in northeastern Ohio, we plant our seeds in the first week of August . . . but then again, in warmer regions—such as California—it might be wise to hold off until September or October.

Seed houses offer two varieties of Chinese cabbage: Chihli and Michihli. I plant only the Michihli variety, because—in my experience—it heads more dependably and more uniformly than the other type.

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