Growing Bok Choy in the Tropical Vegetable Garden (Merida, Yucatan)

 in Garden

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my Bok Choy plants. A handful of people and even an internet search told me it wasn’t recommended in my hot growing zone. At the same time, others encouraged me saying they grow it throughout Asia.  If you don’t know already my vegetable garden is in sunny, hot, tropical, Merida, Yucatan with an average January/February Temperature in the 30*C or 80*F and by May we get up to the 40’sC or in the 100’sF.

Bok choy has a season in the Yucatan, you can start planting it as soon as the chance of flooding passes, usually September or October. You can continue to plant it through June as long as you protect it from the sun. After June, like most all our delicate leafy vegetables, it will start to root rot with our rain.

The basically carefree months are September-February
The months bok choy needs sun/heat protection are March-June
June-September is Yucatan’s rainy season and it will be much harder to stop plants from root rot. (it’s probably not impossible during the rainy season, but it is not worth the time, seeds and space in my opinion)

The best news is that bok choy’s are fast seeds!
Within 8 weeks from the first sprout you will be able to harvest, and most importantly eat them. They can stay in the ground for up to 10 weeks, but if you leave them longer than that they change texture and become bitter. 

When/how to plant bok choy seeds in tropical conditions?
September-February in 4-6 hours of sun
March-June 2-4 hours of sun with sunshade

Like most all my leafy greens, I planted my seeds in trays and then transplanted them at 4 weeks old.
They are fast growers and you will not want to leave them in seed trays too long as they will start to fall over and have a higher risk of breaking or damaging leaves.

You can fit 3 bok choy in ever 30 cm/1 foot space.
I often plant them under tomatoes or next to eggplants.

How to care for Bok Choy plants? 

Water, water and more water.
These babies drink a lot and will wilt quickly if they miss a couple of days.
In September and October it was still raining but, in November, I started to water every other day.
By February the Bok Choy plants wanted daily watering.

Don’t skip on the fertilizers. This plant likes to eat as much as it drinks.
I use a lot of direct compost before planting and then give my plants monthly liquid fertilizers like my easy peazy plant tea. Bok Choy are quick and will only need 1 good drink of liquid fertilizer halfway through their 40-60 day life. If your ground is very well composted you might even be able to grow these big and strong without the liquid fertilizer. 

Sunshade is a must from March onward for most all plants and Bok Choy will be especially delicate. Without proper shade bok choy will bolt and taste bitter before it produces many leaves.

What is bolting?
It’s very important to prevent bok choy from bolting. You can prevent (or limit) bolting by giving the bok choy the right sun, shade conditions and not forgetting to water regularly. The naysayers who thought bok choy wouldn’t grow in the tropics all warned me of bolting. I agree bok choy is easier in cooler climates, but it wasn’t all that hard here in the Yucatan either.

Bolting is technically when a plant shifts into seed production.
You will know when this happens because the plant produces tiny little broccoli type heads that will open into yellow flowers within a couple of days.

Bolting usually always comes with a reduction in plant’s taste and can mean a plant starts being bitter.
As gardeners we like to prevent bolting to be able to grow a plant to full size with great taste.
Once a plant has bolted there is no coming back. You can either cut if back and compost it or wait until seeds are produced and save them.

Coming soon –
Making mulch, how to save tomato seeds, and cooking with bok choy

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