Move over, kale. Rocket rocks!
Eruca sativa, which goes by the more popular name rocket lettuce, may be the next big thing in farm-to-table dining. In your hydroponic garden, rocket is the crème de la crème among salad greens if boldness were our metric.
It’s lettuce in a leather jacket, the maverick leafy green that packs a punch and delivers panache straight to your salad plate. You may know rocket as arugula, depending on which country you’re from.
Rocket’s peppery, slightly bitter flavour and high Vitamin C content makes it an awesome addition to salads. I personally prefer just tearing it into nice pieces and sprinkling it on piping hot puttanesca. Add a few slivers of parmesan and you’ve got unapologetic comfort food right there.
Is rocket easy to grow?
Rocket growing is not rocket science.
It’s so easy to grow your own plant that you’ll be left wondering, ‘Why didn’t I think of this before?’. This article will give you an easier-than-easy guide on how to grow rocket.
You will need:
- Rocket seed
- Line for sowing
- Hoe or trowel
- Horticultural fleece (if needed)
Step 1: Pick your spot
For a lettuce with a big personality, these plants don’t need much space. A 1m-2m long plot that’s 3mm deep is recommended if you plan to sow and harvest rocket continuously. Pick a semi-shaded part of your garden where there’s some sun to make the most of your crops.
Step 2: Prepare your soil
Nutrient-rich and well drained soil is perfect for your crop. If you feel that your soil needs a little boost, make sure to prepare it by adding in nutrients before you sow your rocket seeds. The best way to nourish your soil is to add compost and dig in a little fertiliser a week or two before planting.
Step 3: Mark your row
Line the row to guide where you’ll be sowing your rocket seeds. This will make it easier for you when you’re planting and will help you to identify your rocket from your weeds.
Step 4: Sow your rocket seeds
From the packet, sow the seeds into your plot thinly along the line you’ve made. The ideal spacing between each seed is about 3cm apart. Using a hoe or trowel, cover your seeds lightly with soil or seed raising mix then press gently. Remove any weeds or stones that may obstruct the growth of your seedlings.
Step 5: Water well
Water your seeds well, using a watering can with the rose attached. This ensures that the seeds receive enough moisture through gentle watering, without causing them to be displaced.
Step 6: Fertilise weekly
During the growing process, your rocket seedlings will need all the nutrition they can get. Nourish them weekly using a plant food or liquid fertiliser recommended by your trusted local gardener. Feeding your salad crop during its growth phase will give you a continuous supply of produce.
Pro tips from gardening experts on how to grow rocket
While rocket doesn’t do well when there’s frost, it thrives in cooler weather and grows well in a semi-shaded spot in your garden. The best time to sow rocket seeds is during spring or autumn, when the temperature is lower, but not too cold. If you’re living in a tropical area, your rocket may not be able to tolerate the heat and high humidity. A warmer environment stresses your plant and causes it to overproduce seeds. This condition also results in very bitter leaves that won’t be palatable at all.
Moist topsoil is key
Because rocket plants have shallow roots, keeping the soil moist ensures that your plant is healthy and well-hydrated. Take care not to overwater, though. Overwatering can drown the roots and make the leaves taste blander than usual. Apply mulch to help regulate and maintain soil moisture for your plant.
Harvest seeds from the rocket plant with the slowest seed production
Rocket produces seeds that you can collect for future use. An insider tip is to get seeds from the plant that produces them the slowest. This way, your seedlings will have less tendency to over-flower and will give more leaf yield.
Fertilise as needed
If your soil is compost-rich, chances are you won’t need to add in fertiliser. However, if you’re trying to grow seedlings continuously during the growth season, adding some liquid fertiliser will give your plant a much-needed nutritional boost during this stage.
Protecting your rocket from pests
Apart from the usual garden slug, it seems that the cabbage white caterpillar and flea beetle like the taste of rocket. You can protect the leaves of your rocket plant from these pests by covering the row with horticultural fleece.
Enjoy it fresh or cooked
It’s easy to find ways to enjoy rocket. Rinse it gently and add chopped or whole to your favourite dishes for added flavour. Fresh baby rocket leaves are especially delicious over pizza or pasta. The flower buds are edible as well and would be awesome to add to your salads and soups.
How long does rocket take to grow?
In as short as 3-4 weeks, you’ll be able to pick fresh rocket leaves from your garden that’ll have family and friends buzzing about that organic farming photo you posted on Instagram.
Does rocket regrow after cutting?
These plants are fast growing and regenerate after cutting. Gardening experts recommend cutting the leaves while the rocket plant is young, so you can eat them while they’re tender and palatable.
The best way to harvest rocket is to pick the leaves using your fingers. You can plant seeds every few weeks to ensure that you have a continuous supply of fresh baby rocket leaves.
What are the different varieties of rocket?
There are different varieties of rocket, with different flavour profiles. The one you see in supermarkets is usually cultivated arugula, whereas wild arugula can be distinguished by its stronger taste. These are some of the varieties you can grow in your backyard:
- Cultivated rocket
- Wild rocket
- Dragons tongue
What does rocket grow well with?
This plant isn’t such a picky lettuce when it comes to choosing its company. It can grow well with other lettuces, herbs, and leafy greens in your garden. You’ll find it hard not to dote on it, though. With their quill-like almost scalloped look, rocket leaves are an attention-grabber whether you plant them in your garden or use them as garnish in your salads.
Start growing rocket in your garden
The grow-your-own-food revolution is here to stay, and you can’t be any more hipster than when you have rocket harvested straight from your backyard. Even after it’s not trending anymore, you’ll still get to enjoy the benefits of growing rocket in your garden. You’ll be rewarded with an epic ingredient for your salads and find a buzz-worthy hobby in the process. It’s pretty much a win-win situation.