Arugula is a unique-flavored, leafy green vegetable that has seen a recent surge in popularity. While arugula happens to be one of my favorite salad greens, not everyone is as fond of this distinctly tasting vegetable plant.
Easy to cultivate and fast growing, the first harvest of nutritious arugula greens can be had just a few short weeks after planting. The tiny seeds are sown thickly in wide bands within rows, or scattered over the surface of a raised bed. An eighth to a quarter inch of soil or compost is all that’s needed to cover these rapidly germinating seeds.
The leafy greens can be allowed to grow without thinning the plants. Once the arugula reaches three to five inches in height you can begin harvesting by cutting with scissors or a sharp knife, about half an inch above the soil level. If you’re careful not to uproot the plants you can nurse several harvests from a single planting of this “cut and come again” crop. If allowed to run to seed, the plants will produce spicy buds and flowers that are edible.
If you’re limited to patio or balcony gardening, arugula is an excellent plant for growing in containers. I’ve even seen arugula seeds grown indoors in jars as sprouts just like you would grow alfalfa sprouts.
Arugula reminds me of cilantro or epazote in that it has a very distinct flavor and aroma when crushed. This is an unusual tasting edible plant that most people tend to either love or hate; like with cilantro there’s no middle ground here. Also like cilantro the strong flavor stands out in salads or other recipes and won’t be disguised or lost among other ingredients.
The most common kitchen use for arugula is in fresh salads, but it’s also cooked in pasta dishes, omletes, soups, and other recipes.
Arugula sometimes goes by the names of Roquette, Rocket, or Rucola. Garden catalogs offer various strains of arugula seeds but I haven’t noticed much difference in the flavor or quality of the different varieties that I’ve grown. The exception being an unusual strain called Selvatica, Sylvetta, or Wild Arugula. The leaves of this variety are deeply lobed and exhibit a stronger, more pungent flavor.
If you’re interested in growing a nutritious leafy green vegetable that’s easy to grow, and can be harvested over an extended growing season, then give arugula a little space in your next garden.
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