Arugula is a tangy salad green that grows best in the Bay Area’s cooler seasons.
Back in Roman times, it was forbidden to grow arugula in monastery gardens because it was considered an aphrodisiac. My guess is, it got that reputation because of all the Vitamins A, C, and K, and potassium it provided, giving diners the energy and good health needed for physical activity. In any case, arugula is now recognized as a delicious, healthy, gourmet salad green.
As a member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), arugula is cousin to cauliflower, turnips, kale, and the mustards. Also known as rocket or Mediterranean salad, arugula (Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa) makes an easy addition to any foodscape. Arugula grows rather quickly. Within 40 to 50 days after planting seeds, you can begin harvesting its tasty leaves. Because arugula grows so quickly, it makes a good catch crop. Catch crops are those plants added between bigger crops, to maintain soil microorganisms and to reduce erosion.
Arugula plants look like a deeply lobed, open growth lettuce. Some arugula plants will only reach 8” while others can be more than 3’ tall. Arugula seed pods look much like many other cabbage family plants: they are long, narrow pods filled with rows of seeds. As temperatures begin to rise, arugula plants will bolt, sending up a flowering stalk (pedicle) with lovely, edible flowers. You can slow this process by making arugula part of your shade garden. Being a shallow-rooted plant, arugula can also be grown in containers.
How to grow arugula
Arugula roots enjoy muddy, mucky soils. Since the Bay Area’s clay soil can hold a substantial amount of water, autumn and early spring are the perfect times to plant this healthy salad green. Start by planting seeds 1/2” deep, and water them in well. When seedlings are 1” tall, thin them so that they are spaced 6 to 9” apart. You can do this by tickling their roots apart and transplanting, or you can snip off any extras at ground level, reducing stress to delicate new roots. To keep leaves tender and tasty, be sure to keep the soil evenly moist. Periods of dryness will increase bitterness and trigger bolting.
By regularly snipping off outer leaves for kitchen use, you will stimulate your arugula plants to continue producing new, tender leaves through the cooler weather. Because arugula becomes peppery and bitter as it matures, you may want to continue planting new seeds in succession, for a continuous crop. If allowed to go through their lifecycle unmolested, arugula plants will readily self-seed an area, providing many years of salad greens with little to no effort on your part. Local pollinators, and pollen and nectar eaters, will appreciate the banquet, as well, increasing your garden’s biodiversity.
Arugula pests and diseases
As with many other older species of plant, arugula tends to be relatively pest and disease free. Bacterial leaf spot, downy mildews, and white rust may occur if water stays on the leaves for an extended period. Bagrada bugs can also be a problem, but your arugula plants will be relatively trouble-free.
Try adding arugula to your garden today!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!