by Glo de Castro
Pechay is one of those leafy vegetables that can easily grow in containers. It is a very popular vegetable in Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine. In western countries, they are also known as “bok choy” or “pak choy”. The pechay leaves are smooth and dark green in color forming a cluster similar to mustard greens. In the Philippines, we usually add pechay leaves to beef or pork broth soups, or on their own, they are best sautéed with garlic.
Sowing the Pechay Seeds
I usually start by sowing the seeds in a seed tray. Drop 2 to 3 seeds per slot, then cover them with a thin layer of potting mix or compost. In just 3-4 days, you can already see the small buds growing out of the soil. Once the third or fourth leaf appears after around 2 weeks, I transfer the seedlings to a bigger pot of about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. I then choose the healthiest seedlings and pull out the others. If you have a bigger container, you can grow 2 or 3 plants in the pot. However, you don’t want the plants to be overcrowded as this will limit the growth of the leaves. I made this mistake in my earlier tries which resulted in smaller and leggy leaves.
Watering your Pechay
I use rice wash to water the plants every morning. Rice wash isPechay seedlings very rich in various nutrients that the plants need in order to grow healthy. In the Philippines, steamed rice is a staple in our meals so I get my daily supply of rice wash from some kind neighbors. In exchange, they get a share in my produce which they appreciate very much.
Pechay plants do need sunlight
While these plants can grow in partial shade, they need to get at least 4 hours of direct sunlight in order to grow faster and healthier. During my first few trials, I placed the pots in my back patio. As a result, the plants would only get a maximum 1 hour of direct sunlight. After more than a month, I noticed that the seedlings hardly grew taller than an inch. So I decided to move them to my front yard where they could get more exposure to direct sunlight. Here the plants started to grow faster and healthier.
Last summer, the temperature in the Philippines reached 38 degrees Celsius at peak times. This scorched the leaves of my plants, and even caused some of them to wilt. So I decided to move the plants under some bamboo trees so they could be protected from the scorching heat while still allowing them to get at least 4 hours of daily morning sun. Pechay leaves wither easily if they lack water, so I also made sure I water the plants daily during the summer months.
Harvesting the Pechay Leaves
After another 3 weeks, the pechay leaves were ready for harvest. When planted in containers, pechay plants do not grow as big as they should when planted in farm lots. Nevertheless, with a good soil mix conditioned regularly with compost, they can yield a good amount of produce for the gardener.
There are two options for harvesting pechay. The first option is to cut only the mature leaves around 1 to 2 inches from the root base. The plant will grow new leaves which can be harvested again after a few weeks. The second option is to pull out the entire plant from the soil. If you choose the first option, I suggest that you use the second option for the next round of harvest. From my experience, the plants yield less and less in succeeding harvests.
Pechay leaves are prone to pest attack, particularly the leaf miner and flea beatle. Fortunately, they are easy to handle using common organic pesticides. I usually buy organic pesticides from gardening shops or use a home-made solution from canola oil, dishwashing soap and water.
Pechay is a good starter plant for beginner gardeners. They thrive easily in a tropical weather condition and they never fail to give ambitious gardeners like me a huge feeling of fulfillment after every bountiful harvest.
a. Seedling Production
Sow seeds thinly on shallow furrows across the seedbed/seedboxes, and cover lightly with fine top soil. Do not broadcast seeds when sowing to avoid thick germination in one place.
Water the seedbed/seedbox daily using a sprinkler so as not to expose the seeds which might be eaten by insects. However, when seeds have germinated, regulate watering to produce sturdy seedlings.
Weeding, watering and other cultural management practices should be regularly done until the seedlings are ready for transplanting, or after about one month.
Moisten thoroughly the seedbed a day before pricking out the seedlings for transplanting. This will facilitate easy pricking out of seedlings for transplanting from the seedbed to minimize root injury.
Gently prick out the seedlings and transplant them in the prepared plots or in pots, after which water adequately the plots or pots.
Spacing usually depends on the variety of pechay to be planted but the common distance used is 15 cm between hills and 20 cm between rows.
c. Care and maintenance
Apply liberal amount of organic fertilizer at the base of the plants, then cover lightly with soil and water immediately.
Water the plant whenever necessary or depending on your own judgment or observation of the plant.
Weeding must also be done to minimize competition for soil nutrients. However, weed carefully so as not to disturb the roots of the pechay.
To control pests and diseases, spray the right amount/dosage of pesticides as prescribed on the label, which should never be increased. If possible, plant green onions along the sides of the plot. This plant is offensive to some insects/pests and thus would act as a deterrent to the attack of some insects/pests to the crops. Mechanical or hand picking of worms may be resorted to on a limited number of plants.