Friday, January 7, 2011

Tokyo Bekana - A Step Above Lettuce

I don't like lettuce. I don't like the bitter flavor. It does not make anyone's list of the top ten most nutritious vegetables. I have a hard time getting the seeds to germinate. Just when it starts to form a nice head in the spring it bolts. It will not grow in the heat of summer. Just when it starts to form a nice head in the fall a freeze nails it. Every other farmer at our market grows it. Why bother.
Just sayin'.

So. Tokyo Bekana. Looks like lettuce. It has a nice sweet flavor with the crunchy crisp texture of lettuce. It is a type of mustard (Brassica juncea) so has lots of antioxidants and other nutrients. It is easy to grow. It is prolific. It has withstood 15ยบ cold. Supposedly it will grow in summer. I will find out this year about that. It is an open pollinated heirloom variety so the seeds can be saved and replanted.

I was looking for some new greens to try this fall when i came across Tokyo Bekana in Johnnys Seed catalog. The description got my attention.
"Adds a new dimension to salad mixes. Bright, light green leaves are curly and ruffled for loft (meaning they will make the bag look full at the market), with good weight and shelf life. (meaning if i don't sell it all at the Wednesday market it will keep until the Saturday market). Regrows for multiple cuttings. ..."

So I planted a couple of beds. I sowed the seed in 3" wide bands, 3 rows per bed. In about a month i started harvesting by thinning the rows for baby greens. As the plants got bigger i harvested and bunched the outer leaves. After 6 weeks the plants were getting really large so i began taking the whole heads. They weighed up to 1.25 lbs. each. They flavor remained nice and sweet. Then the temperature dropped like a rock so we covered the beds with heavy row covers and crossed our fingers. When we uncovered a couple of days later we found that the outer leaves were damaged but the centers were fine. We stripped off the damaged leaves and fed them to the chickens and took the rest to market.

Our customers always think they are lettuce when they see them in our display. When they take a taste they are suprised to find how sweet they are. They are happy to learn that they can be used as a salad green or sauteed like bok choy. Once they have tried them they come back asking for them. Tokyo Bekana is definitely a keeper at the Funny Farm.
Just sayin'.

Seed Sources:
Johnny's Seed
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange


Leigh @LarrapinGarden said...

This sounds like a good crop. I love romaine lettuce, but since it doesn't like heat...I can't grow it much of the growing season. I'll check this out! Glad to find your blog and hope you guys stay safe and warm in the coming cold weather.

Farmer Di said...

I am so with you on the lettuce thing. I stopped eating it once I started my own farm, and discovered the delights of young brassicas, especially mustards, spinach, etc.

We're growing the tokyo bekana for our CSA this year, and hope it makes for a good salad when lettuce goes all bitter and bolty and wilty in high summer. Which around here is from June - September... (Virginia)