Arugula a must for every late-summer garden

July 31, 2013
Often mixed into green salads, arugula can also be added to pizzas just before taking them out of the oven so the arugula is not entirely wilted.

With an eye to the shortening days of fall, when planting in August you need something that will literally shoot up fast like a rocket. Our word rocket is named after the Italian word “rochetto” meaning bobbin, because a rocket looks like a flying bobbin. Rocket is also the common name for a long-leafed green with a rich, peppery taste and pungent aroma better known as arugula (Eruca sativa). Often mixed into green salads, arugula can also be added to pizzas just before taking them out of the oven so the arugula is not entirely wilted.

In Puglia, in Southern Italy, coarsely chopped arugula is added to a tomato and pecorino cheese sauce to make the pasta dish cavatiéddi.   Arugula can also be fried in olive oil with garlic and slathered on cold meats and fish.

Arugula grows fast, from seed to harvest in just a few weeks. The lettuce-like plants look like big open dandelions. Like most greens, they do best in cooler weather, so a summer planting will give you greens in early autumn.

Arugula does best in fertile, well-drained soil, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Choose a spot with full sun or light shade. Plant the tiny seeds one-eighth-inch with 30 to 50 seeds per foot. In just five to seven days the seeds will germinate. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. For a continuous harvest, plant every two or three weeks right up until a month before your first frost.

Arugula seeds are widely available from local nurseries and from mail-order companies such as Johnnys Seeds or High Mowing Organic Seeds (76 Quarry Road, Wolcott, VT 05680 phone: 802-472-6174).

If you notice the leaves yellowing or weak growth you can fertilize with a weak compost tea or general organic fertilizer. As with any leafy green, once arugula flowers, the flavor becomes stronger and more intense. If you let the plants go to seed they will often self seed throughout the garden. The white blossoms can be used as a spicy garnish.

Pick just the outer leaves and your arugula plants will produce right up until frost. By picking often, you keep a steady supply of new young leaves.

If you are troubled by flea beetles you can lightly cover your crop with floating row covers. To prevent disease, don’t plant it in the same site each year.

Even if you pick arugula heavily, some deep-rooted plants often survive winter in Zone 7. You can put a light mulch over the row once the weather cools and remove it in early spring.

Arugula is high in vitamins A and K, and contains large amounts of folic acid, zinc, potassium, calcium and iron. Whether you call it rocket, roquette, or arugula, this easy- to-grow, quick-maturing green is a must for every late-summer garden. After all it isn’t rocket science.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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