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Gardening 101: Arugula

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Gardening 101: Arugula

December 8, 2016

Arugula, Eruca sativa: “The Rocket”

Arugula is a bright, crunchy green that began its march across civilizations when the Romans realized it piqued more than their taste buds. Its aphrodisiac powers inspired the poet Virgil to note that arugula “excites the sexual desire of drowsy people.” Warnings were given to pair it with the calming element of lettuce, and monks were forbidden to grow it in their monasteries.

While it may have lost the “I’m too sexy” vibe in ensuing centuries, arugula still delivers in the home garden:

arugula-brooklyn-marie-viljoen-gardenista

Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

Plant arugula from seed and enjoy it just 45 days later, ready to be whirred into pesto or wilted onto pizza. It can survive a light frost and its early flowers—delicate white and maroon beauties—will tempt the first pollinators of springtime. Space the seeds 1 inch apart and thin to 6 inches as arugula grows.

“Garden Rocket,” “Roquette,” and “Astro” are standard arugula varieties. “Sylvetta” is a wild strain of arugula with spicier, smaller leaves. Many seed companies simply label their seeds as “arugula.”

To harvest, strip off the biggest leaves. For a second flush of growth, chop the whole plant to an inch or two above the ground, right above where the baby leaves appear. Feel free to eat the leaves off a bolted plant–they’ll just be extra spicy.

arugula-grows-in-shade-marieviljoen

Above: Arugula thrives in a shady spot in Marie’s Brooklyn garden. Photograph by Marie Viljoen. For more, see 23 and Me: My Favorite Edible Plants to Grow in Shade.

Cheat Sheet

  • If arugula bolts on you—and it will—you can eat the spicy seed pods; they’ll perk up a spring salad. (Arugula’s leaves, flowers, and seed pods are all edible.)
  • Attracts pollinators in the early spring as one of the first vegetables to flower.
  • Can be grown next to anything in the garden. Plant arugula in between rows of longer-maturing plants, such as carrots or squash, to maximize small garden spaces.

Keep It Alive

  • Arugula prefers full summer but in the heat of summer or in hotter climes, plant it in partial sun.
  • Water evenly and it will thrive in either the ground or a container.
  • Sow arugula from early spring to early summer and again in mid- to late summer for a fall crop.

arugula-in-shade-marieviljoen

Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

Like many greens, arugula loses nutritional value after you snip (it bruises in transit). Banish the limp bunches of overgrown arugula from the supermarket and grow it as close to your kitchen as possible. And if you feel a bit “drowsy” yourself? Savor it fresh. Sans lettuce, you sassy thing.

Planning ahead for your spring vegetable garden? See our previous posts for tips on Lettuce, Carrots, and Chicory.

Finally, to learn more about cultivating arugula and using it in your kitchen, visit our Arugula: A Field Guide.

Additionally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for arugula with our Arugula: A Field Guide.

Interested in other edible plants for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various edible plants (including flowers, herbs and vegetables) with our Edible Plants: A Field Guide.

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