Grow it Yourself: Rocket

How did we ever cope when salads were predominantly Iceberg lettuce? Now we expect a mix of leafy greens and the quick maturing rocket has become a bit of a star contributor with its peppery flavour. It is also frequently used as a generous garnish in modern cafe-style cooking.

There are in fact two plants referred to as rocket. The most common is an annual (Eruca sativa). It bolts to seed rather too quickly if grown in midsummer, but autumn and spring are perfect sowing times and you can expect to be harvesting in three to four weeks. Such a quick turn over crop is direct sown into the ground and some gardeners like to sow a small patch every week or two to ensure continued supply. It needs a regular supply of water (which is why it is not the best mid summer crop) to prevent it bolting to seed too soon and in the process getting unpleasantly bitter.

The other plant also referred to as rocket is arugula (technically Diplotaxis tenuifolia). The arugula is slower to mature (Kings Seeds says 55 days as opposed to about 28) and it is considerably slower to bolt to seed. Sometimes it is described as a perennial rocket but it is merely longer lived, rather than truly perennial.

Both forms are brassicas, originally from the Mediterranean. Being brassicas tends to mean they can get infested with white butterflies in summer but grown in the shoulder seasons, they are a tasty addition to salads. They are hardy, so planted now should hold well into winter.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

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