In the garden, bok choy joins robins and crocuses as early harbingers of spring. This fast-growing member of the Brassica family (generally cabbages) flourishes in cool weather and can be sown in-ground after the last frost. Miniature versions are ready to pick within 30 days, and larger versions seldom require the full 50- to 60-day maturity period. Start seedlings indoors for even faster results.
Select a well-drained, sunny area to direct-seed bok choy early in the spring. Create furrowed rows or broadcast seed, covering it with 1/4 inch of fine soil. Water regularly. Expect germination within seven days. Thin your full-sized seedlings to 6 to 12 inches apart (thinnings can go into a stir-fry or salad). Thin baby varieties to 3 to 6 inches apart. Plants are best harvested whole rather than leaf by leaf.
Start bok choy seeds indoors two to three weeks before the last hard frost date in your area. They can be seeded into seed-start mix or regular potting soil. Cover seeds with 1/4 inch fine soil and water regularly. If you are starting seeds in a warm window or atop a radiator tray, place folded newspapers under the tray to insulate the plants from excessive heat, which can stimulate legginess. Seedlings will be ready for transplant within three weeks.
Sow a second crop of bok choy seed late in the summer for fall harvest. Select the coolest section of your garden; heat produces rapid bolting in bok choy. Keep the plants well-watered.
Experiment with indoor sowing for a winter crop of bok choy. Indoor heating provides plenty of warmth; position grow lights high so that they do not contribute more heat. Germination and maturity may take a bit longer than sowing outdoors.
Monitor bok choy frequently to prevent plants from bolting. A couple of warm, sunny spring days are enough to trigger flowering. The leaves of plants in full bloom will begin to wilt and become bitter-tasting. Do not panic, though--all parts of the bok choy plant are edible. Cut bolted plants, flowers and all, into salads or stir-fries.