Arugula sprouts easily inside and then will thrive outside in cold weather. Photos by Doug Oster
My obsession with arugula began in 2006 on a magical trip to Italy to celebrate 25 years of marriage. Sitting on the patio of a small family run trattoria, my wife and I were served antipasto salad which included fresh rocket. We didn't know what rocket was, but when we discovered it was arugula, a plan was made to grow it in the vegetable garden.
The spicy green has a peppery flavor which seems to be a "love or hate" flavor for most. My family loves it and the garden is planted with nearly a dozen different varieties.
Arugula is one of those plants which doesn't ask much from the gardener. It sprouts happily outside when ready or can be started inside like these seedlings. It's nice to jump start the season and fill a four inch pot with seeds. They sprouted in just a few days on a windowsill and now will grow in an unheated greenhouse until they big enough to be tucked into some good compost out in the garden. Thinnings will be potted up into flats with a few of them sacrificed as a greenhouse snack. They could also be put out in the garden with a little protection, maybe planted under a milk carton with the bottom removed.
Wild arugula is almost a weed and in my opinion the most pungent (in a good way) 'Astro' is very productive and 'Adagio' is a slow bolting variety I'm trying for the first time this season. It has smooth leaves like 'Astro,' but is said to last longer in the garden when things warm up. Like most greens, Arugula thrives in cool weather and then will bolt (go to seed) when it gets hot.
It's the perfect spring and fall crop, but will grow in the summer with a little protection from the afternoon sun. I like to grow it in beds that get morning sun and afternoon shade. Succession planting every few weeks assures greens through the whole season. Plants left in the garden at the end of the season will over winter during a mild winter. If left to go to seed the plants will volunteer readily in the spring.
Every time I find a new variety in a seed catalog, it's ordered, planted, the results noted and compared against favorite varieties.
It's fun to have a garden obsession, every few years I find a new one. Of course I'm the only one who knows the difference between the different types when they are served. The family roles their collective eyes as I pontificate about the virtues of each, that's one way the obsession manifests itself.
Each time I bite into the fresh greens covered in good extra virgin olive oil, I think of the special time I had with my wife sitting outside of that little restaurant.