Eruca vesicaria ssp sativa
Syn E. sativa
Introduction: Arugala has its own distinctive pungent flavor and has been in and out of fashion since Roman times. It is a plant that people tend to have strong opinions about, they either love or hate it. I’m not a big fan, but I know people who find it almost irresistible.
At the moment it is back in fashion again and is a key ingredient in many commercially grown salad mixes.
| About Arugala
Germ temp: 35 (45 – 70) 75˚F
Germ time: 2 – 7 days
Seed viability: 2 – 5 years
Germination percentage: 80%+
Weeks to grow transplants: 3 – 4
Plant height 12 – 24˝
Plant diameter: 12˝
Growing temp: 45 (60 – 65) 75˚F
Plants per person: 10
Plants per sq ft: 2 – 4
Direct sow: 4 – 6 wks before last frost
Days to harvest: 25 – 40
Harvest period: 1 – 4 wks
Climate: Arugala is native to the Mediterranean, but grows naturally as a late winter or spring flower, so it is fairly hardy plant. It needs cool weather for best growth, being able to germinate and grow in cold soil and tolerating light frost. It bolts quickly when growing in hot weather (often within weeks of planting).
Nutritional value: Arugala is rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, zing and folate.
pH: 6.00 (6.5) 7.00
This hardy plant can grow almost anywhere, but does best in a fertile, moisture retentive, well-drained soil. If the soil is very poor they may bolt quickly.
Soil preparation: I don’t consider arugala to be a very important crop and just plant it in any convenient vacant space, without doing any special soil preparation. However for maximum productivity this fast growing plant needs nutrients that are readily available. It needs quite a bit of nitrogen and slightly less phosphorus and potassium. Add 2˝ of compost to the soil and perhaps some organic fertilizer mix.
Ease of growing: Arugala is little changed from a wild plant and is pretty easy to grow. The only real problem is the short harvest season before it bolts (flowers). I have read that in an ideal cool, moist situation it can get up to 3 ft tall, but mine usually bolt before they get anywhere near this size.
Where: This fast maturing and compact plant doesn’t take up much space, so is often interplanted between slower growing crops, rather than being given space of its own.
Arugala needs full sun for best growth, though like most leafy greens it will tolerate some shade (and may prefer it in warmer weather).
When: This hardy member of the mustard family grows best in the cool weather of spring and fall. In hot weather it gets very pungent and bolts as soon as it has produced a few leaves. In mild climates it can be grown all summer and if winters are mild it can be grown through the winter too.
Spring outdoors: Rocket germinates well in soil as cool as 45˚F and can be sown 4 – 6 weeks before the last spring frost. For an even earlier crop warm the soil with cloches for a week or two before planting.
Fall crop: Arugala also does well as a fall crop. Start sowing whenever the weather starts to cool down sufficiently (the seed doesn’t germinate well above 75˚F).
Winter crop: Arugala is well suited for growing in cool weather and in areas with mild winters it can be an important winter crop. It can also do well in colder areas if grown under cloches or tunnels (or in the greenhouse).
Succession sowing: Rocket is a fast crop at the best of times, but especially as the weather warms up. If you want a continuous supply, you should make succession sowings every 2 – 3 weeks until it gets too warm.
This annual is usually grown from seed, sown directly into the garden at a depth of ¼ – ½˝.
Spring indoors: In spring arugala is sometimes started indoors 4 – 6 weeks before the last frost date and planted out 3 – 4 weeks later.
Beds: If you grow it in beds you can sow the seed 2˝ apart and thin the plants to a final spacing of 6˝.
Rows: Sow the seeds 2˝ apart in the row, with 6˝ between the rows. As the plants get bigger you harvest thin to the desired spacing of 6˝ apart. If you give it more room (up to 12˝) the plants will get bigger, but you will have less of them.
Arugala if often grown as a cut and come again crop, in which case you sow the seeds about 1˝ apart.
Weeds: This plant competes against weeds quite well, because it practically is a weed. It will need weeding while young though.
Watering: Arugala is fairly drought tolerant, but needs moist soil for best growth and flavour. This is especially important in warm weather as dry plants get pungent and bolt quickly.
Feeding: If your soil isn’t very good you might want to boost growth with a feed of liquid kelp or compost tea. You will probably only need to do this once before it is ready to harvest.
Frost protection: Though this is a hardy plant, a fall crop will usually grow faster and be more productive if given the protection of cloches or tunnels.
Pests: Many of the pests that attack the related Brassicas will also eat arugala. Flea beetles are the commonest problem in my garden, peppering the plants with tiny holes. I don’t normally do anything about them though, because these fast growing plants usually recover quickly.
Diseases: Though these are not usually a big problem, arugala is sometimes bothered by damping off, mildew and various bacterial infections.
Poor flavor: Unpleasantly pungent and bitter leaves are usually the result of hot weather and / or a lack of water.
You can start harvesting individual leaves as soon as they are of sufficient size (2 – 3˝), which may be only 2 weeks after transplanting. You can also harvest the whole plants up until they start to flower. Cut them off a couple of inches above ground level and the remaining plant will usually re-grow.
The leaves are best when harvested immediately before use. If necessary you can store them in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days,
Seed saving: Rocket bolts readily so saving seed is easy. The perfect flowers are cross-pollinated by insects, but since there are few varieties available (and you are unlikely to have more than one type flowering any a time), this isn’t usually a problem.
When the seedpods begin to ripen, cut the whole plants and put them in a paper grocery bag to dry. When they are fully dry, crush them to free the seeds. Arugala produces seed abundantly and you can get a lot of seed from a few plants. I always have far more than I have use for.
Unusual growing ideas
Salad mix: Rocket is commonly grown for use in salad mixes. It may either be grown in a mixed bed, or in a section by itself. I prefer the latter approach, as it is more vigorous than most salad mix plants and can take over. It does well when grown in this way, as its ever present tendency to bolt is less of a problem. See Salad mix for more on this.
Micro-greens: This is just a smaller version of the above. You plant the seeds ¼˝ apart and start harvesting when the first true leaves appear. This can be within 2 weeks. See Microgreens for more on this.
Containers: Arugala does well as a container plant, so long as the container is at least 6˝ deep and you keep the soil moist. It will even do well inside.
Wild garden: Arugala self-sows readily and can become a minor weed. Because of this I rarely plant it in its own bed. I just encourage it by scattering seed in suitable spots. As I write this it looks as good now as it has all year and it is almost Christmas.
Varieties: There are a few, mostly claiming to be slower to bolt, but I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference in any of those I have tried.
Kitchen use: If you don’t like it raw, try it in soups, or steamed as a potherb, as this changes the flavor a lot (this is a good way to use older leaves too).
The white flowers can be added to salads.
The abundantly produced seeds can be ground into a condiment like mustard (see Mustard for how to do this).
The seed can also be sprouted for salad greens.
Perennial arugala / Sylvetta
(Diplotaxis tenuifolia and D. muralis)
Since I wrote the above about arugala I have discovered this intriguing perennial and have been very impressed with it. The main reason I like it is because it doesn’t bolt to seed at the first opportunity (as ordinary arugala is inclined to do).
When I grew it the plants didn’t flower for several months after planting. When they did finally do so, I collected seed for sowing next year. Actually this wasn’t even necessary as it is a perennial. If you cut off the flowering heads early, it will put on more vegetative growth.
I have found that it tastes pretty much the same, though some people claim it is stronger flavored.