The little leafy green called arugula, or rocket, is really much more versatile than just for salads. I grow a little patch of cold-loving arugula outside my kitchen door, and when I need a quick parsley substitute…there it is. When I need a handful of tender greens to add to a soup or stew…there it is. When I need a crispy filler for a sandwich…there it is.
Tremendously healthy – it is a cabbage relative – arugula is a trusty crop that has been grown for centuries in the Mediterranean region and elsewhere.
Arugula is one of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed that I have ever known. If conditions are right, you can start harvesting the little leaves as soon as four weeks after sowing seed directly into the garden. Keep in mind just a few things:
- arugula prefers cool soil and air temperatures, and will sprout in early spring and in fall
- arugula likes an open, rich soil, and some protection against prolonged hot sun (so it doesn’t bolt to seed)
- arugula needs regular watering for best growth – don’t let it get bone dry
I plant arugula usually in mid- to late-fall, using two packets of seed instead of one in a small bed about the size of a pillow case. Then, as the sprouts come in thickly, I thin the tiny seedlings and use the rinsed-off thinnings just like any other kind of fresh sprout. Super fresh. Then, as the remaining shoots develop I continue thinning for a while. What remains in the ground will keep producing little leaves for you to snip.
If you plant arugula seeds in late fall or during the winter, they will sprout first thing in the spring. Presto – magic!
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NC Garden Ambassador at Sow True Seed
Writer Nan K. Chase has written about topics as diverse as the history of Islam and the history of the mini-skirt, about beauty pageants and about nuclear energy. An award-winning investigative journalist, she has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Air & Space, Southern Living, and many other publications. A long-time gardener, Nan lives in the mountains of western North Carolina.