8 tips for growing and harvesting rocket
• Before sowing, enrich soil with organic matter or well-rotted manure. • The ideal temperature for germination is 15-20°C, but rocket will germinate down to 5°C. Direct sowing is preferred, as the long thin taproot does not transplant well. • My seeds always strike far too well, resulting in masses of seedlings, perhaps something to do with me not being able to see them without glasses.
• The seed is fine, and it is easy to oversow. This isn’t really a problem as long as you remember to thin them. Un-thinned, they can become weak and spindly, and can rot or bruise more easily on picking. Thin successively to 2cm apart, then to 10-15cm and finally 20cm when plants are well established. The thinned seedlings make delicious tender additions to salads. • Plants should be kept growing rapidly with plenty of moisture and occasional liquid feeding. Pests and diseases are rarely a problem – perhaps it’s a tad hot for them! • The degree of ‘pepperiness’ of the leaves depends on their age, so start harvest early when the leaves are small, just 7-10cm. These can be cut or whole plants pulled for the salad bowl. The flowering stem should be removed as soon as it appears, as the leaves will quickly become hot and strong. • Plants respond well to being cut right back to a short stump (2cm) producing fresh crops of leaves. • The leaves can bruise easily, so harvest and wash them carefully and spin or pat dry. Once picked, they will store in a covered container or plastic bag in the fridge for several days.