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Grow your arugula? It's easier than you may think

November 25, 2009 | 10:03 am

ArugulaFarmers
 
Now that the weather has cooled a bit in Southern California, salad greens can make a go of it. For a practically fail-proof crop, toss out some arugula seed. Despite its use in chichi restaurants, this slender green with a nutty flavor grows like a weed, often self-sowing next year’s crop.

“It’s easier to grow than lettuce,” says Kelly Coyne, co-author of the 2008 book “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City.”

“Arugula doesn’t seem to attract aphids or slugs,” says Coyne, who for years has watched arugula seeds spill out of the salad bed of her garden in the Edendale neighborhood of L.A. The plant sprouted up in pockets of open ground -- even between bricks on the patio. She let her chickens gobble up the strays. “It’s the kind of gardening I like,” Coyne says. “Anything that will grow feral or perennially is my preferred sort of plant, because I don’t want to be replanting stuff all the time.”

The most familiar varieties, cultivars of Eruca sativa, are white-flowered Mediterranean annuals. More pungent, yellow-flowered perennials (Diplotaxis tenuifolia and Diplotaxis muralis) are often sold as “rustic,” “wild” or “sylvetta” arugula.

“It’s really good with pizza and pasta,” says Renee Shepherd, founder of Renee’s Garden Seeds. “And the pretty little flowers make good, spicy garnishes.”

For milder flavor, Shepherd suggests picking the leaves when they’re young. “The older it gets, the more tangy and spicy it gets,” she says. “And the hotter the weather, the spicier the leaves will be.”

If you don’t like greens growing willy-nilly, arugula seeds are easy to snap off and save for a deliberate planting next year.

-- Ilsa Setziol

Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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