The ancient Romans call it Eruca. The ancient Greeks called it Roka. Today, it’s often marketed as “salad rocket.” That may be because it gives other greens such a “lift” that the Romans considered it an aphrodisiac!
Or it could be called “rocket” for its speedy growth habit. Growing arugula seedlings frequently hit harvest-ready size just four or five weeks after poking through the soil!
Whatever it’s called, this uniquely nutritious leafy green is as deserving as kale of a place in the cool-weather garden. Today’s post is all about the why and how of growing arugula.
First, the why.
Growing Arugula for Its 9 Nutritional Benefits
Like all leafy greens, arugula skimps on the calories with only 10 per cup of fresh leaves. But every one of those calories comes with nine nutritional benefits, thanks to arugula’s multitude of phytochemicals, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.
- As part of the botanical Brassica (Cabbage) family, arugula is a top source of cancer-fighting sulforaphane, a natural killer-cell booster, and indole, an estrogen blocker.
- Fresh arugula (100 g) supplies s97 mcg of folic acid. That’s nearly 25 percent of the recommended daily requirement for expectant mothers.
- Like kale, arugula is an excellent source of the essential vitamins A, C, K, and five B-complex vitamins. It’s also rich in the flavonoids luteolin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin, and quercetin. Taken together, these nutrients:
- enhance our immune system function
- eliminate inflammatory free radicals
- promote bone and brain health
- lower the risk of oral, lung, and skin cancers
- maximize our cells’ metabolic functions.
Add its amounts of red blood cell-building iron and copper, and arugula more than measures up as a champion of healthy plant-based eating!
Now, the how.
Growing Arugula from Seed
The first thing to decide before your start growing arugula is which variety to plant. As a rule of thumb, plants with marrow, sharply “spiked” leaves have a more pungent mustard taste than those with broader, more rounded ones.
Some suggestions, ranked by flavor from mildest to strongest:
- “Garden Tangy”
- “Red Dragon”
- “Rocket” (the most common supermarket variety)
- “Wasabi” (the name speaks for itself!)
Planting requirements for all arugula varieties are the same. Because it’s a fast-growing cool-weather vegetable, you can direct sow the seeds in early spring after the daytime temperature settles above 40 degrees F.
Choose a location with well-drained soil and from six to eight hours of daily sun. Before sowing, clear the planting site of debris and large rocks and cut back any grass or weeds. Then cover it with a 4-inch layer of well-rotted vegan compost.
Sprinkle your arugula seeds thinly over the compost’s surface, then tamp them down lightly with your hands. Cover the compost with a thin layer of vermiculite to help it drain freely and keep it from compacting.
Water the planting area well and continue watering as needed to keep it moist through the growing season. Watering with a fine spray is best; streams of water create channels in the compost and may disturb the seeds.
Arugula seedlings typically sprout within a week. After the first one appears, test your compost’s moisture level daily by sticking your finger into it.
If it feels or looks wet, don’t water. If it’s dry and powdery, the plants may “bolt” by directing their energy away from leaf production and into flowering. And water-stressed arugula leaves taste bitter!
Within a month to six weeks, the seedlings develop into rosettes of 2- to 3-inch leaves. To harvest the greens, snip them back to 1 inch from the surface of the compost.
Leave at least one leaf on each rosette to make the food it needs to grow a second crop of leaves.
In two or three weeks, you’ll have a second crop.
Repeat the harvesting process as long as the plants yield a decent number of leaves or until they bolt naturally with the onset of warm weather.
If you’re growing arugula, where summer is long and hot, protecting it with a shade cloth may give you one or two extra harvests.
If your arugula’s leaves look shot full of tiny holes, flea beetles are the culprits. Control them veganically with a companion planting of marigolds. The strong scent makes it harder for the beetles to home in on the arugula.