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Chinese Vegetables: Cool-Season Varieties

Peas snow peas
Snow peas

Chinese vegetables, sometimes called Oriental vegetables, favored in Chinese and Asian cooking are easy to grow. They are tasty, vigorous, and highly adaptable. Most are fast growing and suitable for small gardens and containers.

Chinese vegetables can generally be broken into three groups: those easy to grow in temperate regions with cool and cold winters, those that require higher temperatures and long-growing seasons–sub-tropical plants, and, finally, a small group of water vegetables, tubers, and herbs.

Like other vegetable crops, Chinese vegetables can be divided into warm-season and cool-season growing crops. Here are common cool-season Chinese vegetables. For warm-season varieties see the related article: Chinese Vegetables: Warm-Season Varieties

Cool-season Chinese vegetables:

Fava bean (Vicia faba). Also called broad bean. Young pods can be cooked as you would snow peas; young beans can be shelled and cooked; older beans can be shelled and cooked to make a puree or soup; dried beans can be cooked like navy beans. Sow in spring as soon as the soil can be worked; in warm-winter regions sow in fall for a spring crop. Sow 1 inch deep, 4 to 6 inches apart in rows 24 inches apart. For edible pods harvest as soon as pods begin to show outline of bean; for shelled beans allow beans to plump up; for dried beans harvest 65 to 90 days after sowing. Try varieties: Aquadulce, Broad Windsor, Precoce Violetto.

Chinese broccoli (Brassica oleracea Albogloabra Group). Also called white flowering broccoli. Traditional style cut the broccoli into 2-inch pieces and stir-fry for 1 minute. Also stir-fry or steam; leaves can be used in salad. Sow in early spring for late-spring crop. Sow ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows 12 inches apart. Harvest 70 to 80 days after sowing. Try varieties: Thick Stem Winner, Blue Star, Hybrid Blue Wonder.

Burdock (Arctium lappa). Also known as gobo, the Japanese name. Young leaves and stem can be eaten like spinach and asparagus, but the long, slender root is best known. Eat roots young and peeled like a radish; mature root is peeled and soaked in salted water and parboiled. Plant in early spring for fall crop or winter over for early spring crop. Soak seed and then plant ½ to 1 inch deep, 6 inches apart, in rows 20 inches apart. Harvest in as little as 45 days, but can stay in ground longer until roots are 2 to 3 feet long. Varieties: Grow only A. lappa; try Takinogawa Long, Watanabe.

Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa Pekinensis Group). Also called napa cabbage, hakusai, Tianjin cabbage, Michihili, and Chinese celery cabbage. Use in salads or stir-fry as you would ordinary cabbage. Plant mid-summer for fall crop; in spring plant bolt-resistant variety. Sow ½ inch deep, in inch between plants, thin to 18 inches apart in rows 18 to 30 inches apart. Harvest before heavy frost; ready for harvest 70 to 80 days after sowing. Try varieties: Hybrid Super, Hybrid Hwa King WR60, Michihili.

Garland chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium). Also called shungiku or edible chrysanthemum, also called crown daisy. Eat raw with salad greens, but commonly cooked very briefly like spinach or last minute in stir-fry. Sow in early spring and successively until early summer. Sow ¼ inch deep, 2 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Harvest in 25 to 60 days. Try varieties: Small Leaf, Round Leaf, Tiger Ear.

Garlic (Allium sativum). Sharper flavor than elephant garlic. For cooking, peel whole cloves before using; crush and remove from dish before serving; cook lightly in a bit of oil to distribute flavor to other ingredients. Garlic cloves are planted in late fall or in early spring; plant larger cloves for best results. Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant ½ inch deep, 6 inches apart in rows 8 inches apart. Grows best in cool temperatures where days are long. Cloves mature in 6 to 8 months; harvest when the tops turn brown and dry; allow bulbs to dry in the sun or a day or two after harvest.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). Differs from common chives with garlic instead of onion flavor; flowers are white instead of lavender. Use as you would common chives: mince for salads, sprinkle as a garnish, or add to cooked dishes for zesty flavor. Bulbs can be eaten like garlic or shallots. Grow indoors as a potherb. Or grow outside as a permanent clump. Usually started from transplants set 12 inches apart in rows 20 inches apart. Dig and divide clumps to start new colony. Harvest leaves when they are about 6 inches long from 25 to 60 or more days after starting; cut shoots to within 2 inches of the ground. Don’t let the flowers go to seed

Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum). Elephant garlic is milder flavor than common garlic; it is a bigger version of ordinary garlic. For cooking, peel whole cloves before using; crush and remove from dish before serving; cook lightly in a bit of oil to distribute flavor to other ingredients. Garlic cloves are planted in late fall or in early spring; plant larger cloves for best results. Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant ½ inch deep, 6 inches apart in rows 8 inches apart. Grows best in cool temperatures where days are long. Cloves mature in 6 to 8 months; harvest when the tops turn brown and dry; allow bulbs to dry in the sun or a day or two after harvest.

Flowering kale (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group). Often sold as ornamental kale or ornamental cabbage. Use like other kale or cabbage; shred, boil, bake, or stuff. Sow ½ inch deep 8 inches apart in rows 16 inches apart. Grow like common cabbage. Harvest when heads are loosely formed as early as 55 days.

Mitsuba (Cryptotaenia canadensis ssp. japonica). Often called Japanese parsley. Use leaves as you would Italian parsley in mixed green salads, simmer in broth, stir-dry, or mince and add to cooked vegetables. Sow as early as the ground can be worked in spring; can be grown in a pot indoors in winter. Sow seed ½ inch deep, 2 inches apart and thin to 4 inches apart. Sow successively every three weeks for continuous harvest. Leaves are ready for harvest in 60 to 90 days.

Mizuna (Brassica napa nipposinica). Also called Chinese potherb mustard or Japanese salad green. Steam or stir-fry at the last minute or use in mixed green or tossed salad. Grow from early spring until hard frost; does not go to seed in hot weather. Sow 2 inches apart at ½ inch deep in rows 18 inches apart. Harvest from seed in 35 to 40 days.

Chinese mustard (Brassica juncea). Chinese mustard greens among most delicious greens; comes in many forms; use in salads or cook like spinach. Sow in early spring and again in last summer until first frost; flavor is peppery in summer. Sow seeds ¾ inches deep in rows 12 inches apart. Harvest from seed in 35 to 50 days. Try varieties: Bau-Sin, San-Ho Giant, Red Giant.

Bunching onions (Allium fistulosum). Also called Japanese leek, nebuka, scallion, spring onion, multiplier onion, green onion, and Welsh onion. Use bunching onions as you would scallions–as garnish, in stir-fry, and they are mild enough to eat raw. Braise after cutting in half vertically. Sow seed in early spring for summer use and in mid-summer for fall or early spring use. Sow ½ inch deep and 2 inches apart. Ready for harvest in about 65 days. Try varieties: Evergreen, Red Beard, Four Season.

Pak choy (Brassica rapa Chinensis Group). Cook Pak choy leaves like spinach; cook stems or ribs like asparagus. Use in stir-fry and soups. Sow in early spring or later summer; extend fall crop by harvesting outer leaves. Can be harvested whole very small. Sow seed ¼ inch deep about 2 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart; thin to about 6 inches apart. Grow quickly with even, regular watering. Ready for harvest in about 45 days, or clop outside leaves earlier. Try varieties: Long White Petiole, Short White Petiole, Canton Choice.

Asparagus pea (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus). The whole plant is edible: leaves, shoots, flowers, and roots. Stir-fry pods or add to soups ands stews. Add shoots, leaves and flowers to soups and curries. This plant is not frost tender; sow in garden a couple of weeks before the last frost–start early. Sow seed ½ inch deep, 6 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Sow fall crop in mid- to late-summer. Harvest in 50 days.

Snow pea (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon). Also called edible-podded peas. Use in soups, meat dishes, stir-fry dishes and sukiyaki. Combines well with fish and other vegetables; just remove ends and cook quickly. Sow in spring as soon as the soil can be worked as much as six weeks before the last frost. Sow for fall crop in late summer. Sow in a 6-inch-deep trench; cover first few inches of stem as they grow to fill in trench. Sow ½ inch deep and thin to 2 inches apart. Grow on supports–vines can reach 5 feet tall or more. Try varieties: Mammoth Melting, Sugar, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Premium.

Chinese radish (Raphanus sativus). Can be eaten raw, grated and served with Asian sesame oil or soy sauce. Cook in stir-fry and also can be pickled. Greens can be served young or steamed. Sow seed in spring, summer, or fall; sow ½ inch deep and 2 inches apart; thin in stages and eat thinnings. Time of harvest depends on if you grow for leave or roots; roots ready for harvest in 60 to 80 days. Try varieties: Ta-Mei-Hwa, Tsin-tao Green, Nam Pan.

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4 Comments

  1. Hey Steve, I’m intrigued by these Windsor Peas but can’t find any growing info. Are they the same as Windsor Beans? I do a market garden and these sound like just the ticket. Can you give me more info… such as, is it too late to start them in or around a high tunnel? October 2nd here. Thanks

    • Windsor beans are an old English broad or fava bean with pods 5 to 6 inches long. You will find seeds available for Windsor broad beans at Johnny’s Selected Seeds online. Fava beans are very different than peas, as you know–though both are English gardening favorites. There is sweet pea flower variety called “Windsor”–perhaps that’s where the confusion arises.

  2. Great article, thank you for helping me.
    I love to stir fry so I bought some bok choy seeds and planned seeds as directed on the package in the spring, and of course it went to seed…. but the good news..I have lots of free seeds!
    And after reading your article I now know when to plant.
    I live in Kentucky and usually we have a nice long cool fall season. I’m going to be keeping your article and trying many more cool season vegetables that you suggested.
    Looking forward to it, thanks again… Linda

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Chinese Vegetables: Warm-Season Varieties