Want to learn to grow rocket? The humble herb known as Rocket or Arugula is one of the easiest, fastest foods to grow. Perfect in pesto, delicious in dips … this slightly peppery green has many bonus health benefits. So dig in!
Why grow rocket?
‘Pocket Rocket’ is Packed with Incredible Health Benefits
- According to Isabell Shipard in her informative book ‘How Can I Grow Herbs in My Daily Life?’ rocket is a rich source of sulforaphane. A powerful anti-cancer, anti-microbial and even anti-diabetic compound. It’s also a potent trigger for detoxifying blood and cells and helps promote production of cancer-preventative enzymes.
- The fresh leaves are highly alkaline and rich in anti-oxidants.
- The leaves contain phytochemicals that have protective and disease preventive properties. These include countering the carcinogenic effects of estrogen and helping protect against prostate, breast, cervical, colon and ovarian cancers, by their ability to inhibit cancer cell growth and the cytotoxic effects on cancer cells.
- Rocket is an excellent source of vitamin A. Studies have found this vitamin and flavonoid compounds in leafy green veggies help protect you from skin, lung and mouth cancers. (Flavonoids also play an anti-allergic, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral role).
- Good levels of vitamin C. This vitamin is a powerful, natural anti-oxidant that helps boost immunity against disease and destroys harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
- A very good source of folates (100g fresh rocket contains 97 mcg or 24% folic acid). If consumed around conception period, may help prevent neural tube defects in newborn babies.
- Contains important minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, iron, phosphorus and selenium.
- Its slightly bitter flavour also aids digestion.
“Save your money on buying supplements – grow fresh rocket!”
Rocket by Name, Rocket by Nature!
My Name: I’m also known as Arugula, Rucola, Italian cress and Rocquette (Eruca sativa).
My Family: I’m a member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family of plants. Other edible cousins in my family include cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, broccoli, kale, radish, Tatsoi, daikon and horseradish.
I Like: A nice warm bed in a sunny position. Either in either a pot or the garden and well-fertilised moist soil with good drainage. I like mineral rich compost and consistent moisture and will reward you with lots of tasty leaves fast and be ready for the first harvest in just 3-4 weeks.
I Dislike: Very hot and dry weather or very cold (frosts) – this stresses me out and I bolt to seed fast. My leaves become tough and bitter, so keep me well watered and protected!
Personal space: I don’t need much room. So I’m perfect for a pot by the kitchen door where you can reach out and pick my leaves for salads. I usually grow to about 40-60cm high but can reach even higher when flowering and going to seed. I can be chopped back several times once I’m mature. Cutting me down to size will help me regenerate and produce new shoots before flowering.
My Friends: I grow well with just about everyone including lettuce and other herbs.
My Enemies: Not too many really. The occasional slug in wet weather. Sometimes the cabbage white butterflies lay their eggs on my leaves and their caterpillar ‘kids’ take a nibble.
Favourite Food & Drink: I like a well-fertilised soil with plenty of compost, worm castings and mulch. I grow vigorously with a weekly application of liquid fertiliser. No accounting for taste, but I LOVE to drink worm juice tea, seaweed, fish emulsion and compost teas!
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Appearance & Flavour: When young, my leaves have a very mild flavour. Like some humans, my ‘spiciness’ intensifies as I get older! My edible creamy white flowers have deep purple veins, so I am really beautiful (not vain)! I am incredibly attractive to bees and many pollinators. These suitors come calling to drink my sweet flower nectar. My flowers also look beautiful as a garnish on meals and taste sweet in salads.
My attractive flowers eventually produce thick seed pods and I am really productive. I produce a lot of ‘kids’. My seed pods are packed with rocket ‘babies’ just waiting to be planted. A whole new generation in the making!
Low Maintenance but High Value!
Rocket is an annual herb and so easy to grow. Rocket seeds can be sown direct in the garden in a very shallow hole (about 5mm deep) and then covered again. Alternatively, germinate seeds in a seed raising mix. Plant out when the seedlings have their first two true leaves. Or grow rocket as microgreens for healthy ‘fast food.’ If you get addicted to this delicious salad green, you can succession plant every few weeks for a continuous supply.
How to Stop your Rocket from Bolting to Seed
Salad rocket will ‘bolt’ if it gets stressed (i.e. grow a stalk and start to flower so it stops producing leaves and puts its energy into creating flowers for seeds). This happens if the nights are too cold, the days are too hot or they dry out! Don’t worry if this happens … here’s how to keep your rocket producing more leaves and bring them back under control:
How to Harvest and Save Rocket Seeds
- One of the best reasons to grow rocket, is to save your own seeds. If left alone, seed pods will dry and shatter all by themselves – self-seeding your garden with more free plants! Depending on where you’ve planted your rocket though, this may not be the best outcome. If you grow rocket on a balcony, then showering the neighbours below with your precious seeds when they explode means you lose the lot! Better to harvest your seeds and save them for planting when and where it suits you for future crops and succession planting.
- When selecting a rocket plant to save seed from (if you have more than one), choose the plant that was slowest to bolt to seed. This is a beneficial characteristic you want to preserve in future crops. You will naturally get more produce for longer from a plant that goes to seed slowly.
- Harvest when the seed pods that have formed from the flowers have plumped out and are beginning to look dry. Trim the stems carefully and gather these into a paper bag with the seed heads facing downwards into the bottom of the bag. Tie the stems together with string around the top of the bag and hang up for a couple of weeks to dry out.
- When completely dry, shake the flower heads into the bottom of the bag and use a fine sieve to collect them. Remove any chaff. This can attract weevils that think your seeds are their next dinner! Store rocket seeds in an airtight container and use within a year for maximum viability.
How to Harvest and Store Rocket Leaves & Flowers
- Start picking young leaves when they are 10cm long by snipping with scissors. Best picked just before using as rocket wilts quickly but will keep in the fridge wrapped in plastic for up to 2 days.
- Snip a leaf or two from the outside of the plant rotating around your plants as you need them. Don’t give one particular plant an all over haircut at once! You don’t want to leave rocket ‘nude’ with no leaves to photosynthesize with and continue to grow. Cut and let your rocket reshoot some new leaves from the centre, before coming back in a few days to pick some more around the outside of the plant.
Want to learn more about how to harvest rocket?
Watch this video:
If you enjoyed learning how to grow rocket, you might also like Grow Your Own Herb Tea Garden and Harvesting Vegetables & Herbs. If you’d like to learn more about rocket and the health benefits of growing and using herbs, there is a wealth of practical information on over 500 herbs, spices and edible plants in the excellent book “How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life?“. One of the most often used books in my home library. It’s rarely on the bookshelf because we’re always referring to it or sharing the information with friends and visitors!
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