Arugula is one of the easiest greens to grow, if not the easiest of all. In America, arugula somehow got a reputation as an frou-frou, elitist food, which I’ve heard boggles the minds of many in European countries, where the green (also known as ‘rocket’ or ‘roquette’) grows like weeds and, until recently, wasn’t usually cultivated intentionally. Regardless, arugula’s zesty, peppery-tasting leaves have become a popular salad staple and pizza garnish here in recent years. The strong taste of this green is usually one people love or hate: If you fall on my side of that divide, you should really try growing some yourself. Here’s how:
Getting started: Arugula is a great vegetable for impatient gardeners, because it can go from seed to harvest in as little as four weeks. Plant inside anytime, or outside in early spring or early fall (arugula prefers cool-ish weather).
I’ve always had remarkable success starting arugula from seed; you’d pretty much have to engage in active sabotage to stop arugula seeds from taking hold once planted. You’ll begin to see sprouts within a week, sometimes in as little as 48 hours. Plant seeds in potting soil about 1-inch apart. Because they will sprout so fast, it’s best to sow them directly in whatever container you plan to grow your arugula in, instead of a seed-starting tray. You can plant it alone, or mixed in with other greens. Plant new seeds every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous supply of arugula leaves.
Let there be light: Arugula will grow in full sun or in partial shade. It’s not as much a matter of light as one of heat that determines how your plants will grow. Exposed to too much heat, plants will switch suddenly from mainly leafy growth to producing seeds and flowers, otherwise known as bolting (this is bad; you don’t want bolting). If you’re growing arugula outdoors, it’s actually better to plant or set pots in a place that doesn’t get full sun, because of the heat.
Earth, wind & water: Arugula does best in rich soil, but it’s not terribly picky, and will tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions. Keep soil moist, but not wet or soggy. If growing indoors, use a fan to circulate air around plant if the soil gets soggy or mildew-y.
- To harvest Arugula, pick off the outside leaves at the base of the plant; leave the center growing points intact for future harvesting.
- As the plant grows it may sprout a few flowers; let these grow and die – they will continually reseed the arugula. The leaves do turn much more bitter as the flowers come out, though, so if you don’t like that just keep picking the leaves young. (Tip via The Kitchn)
- Because the roots are relatively shallow, you don’t need a particularly deep container. You can actually grow arugula in almost any sort of container, but bed-like containers work better than pots (at least if you want to grow a bunch at once). Right now, I’m growing mine in an old milk-crate (I covered the bottom with cheesecloth and the sides with cardboard so the soil wouldn’t spill out. I am clearly a very classy gardener).
Photo: In My Kitchen Garden