A guide on the right time to plant mizuna, mibuna and coriander
By Helen Tuton
Mizuna & Mibuna
Known by various guises, including xiu cai, kyona, Japanese mustard and Japanese greens, mizuna and mibuna are two lush, leafy vegies just waiting to be popped into your patch. These quick-growing salad and stirfry plants with a mild mustard flavour will add colour and flavour to your next meal. Used in traditional Japanese New Year’s Day feasts, mizuna and mibuna are easy and quick to grow. For the impatient gardener, there is almost no better plant than these as they can be ready to harvest in as little as four weeks. The beauty of mizuna and mibuna is they are “cut and come again” vegies, meaning you can harvest the outer leaves as often as you require.
When to plant:
Where to plant: Mizuna and mibuna love full sun, except in parts of Australia with very hot summers. In these hot spots, part shade is fine, so consider using some other plants, such as beans and sweet corn, as living shade. Or erect a shade tent for your precious green babies.
Requirements: A patch full of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, will see them off to a fine start. When preparing the patch, remove any large stones to prevent misshapen greens. A free-draining soil is ideal, so try for one part compost to three parts soil for happy Japanese greens. Leave about 20cm between each plant and plant out with a couple of handfuls of pelletised poo, ensuring your pH is around 6.5–7.5. In addition to a well-prepared soil, a halfstrength manure/compost tea fortnightly is ideal. Seaweed solution at planting time will ensure good root development and may also help prevent some pests and fungal infections. Like many other Asian greens and leaf plants, mizuna and mibuna have shallow roots and will need frequent watering, especially in hot and/or windy weather. Keep the area well-mulched and test soil moisture regularly. Subsurface irrigation will work best for all greens, so consider a system.
Uses: Both mizuna and mibuna have become common fixtures in store-bought salad mixes over the past few years but, as well as being eaten raw, these tasty two are great in stirfries, soups and pasta dishes. They not only taste good but are good for you, being low in calories and high in folic acid and vitamins A and C.
Pests: Snails are the biggest pests for Japanese greens (slugs to a lesser extent). Deter these little munching machines before they eat your stirfry stuff. My suggestion is to spread coffee grounds around your patch — a perfect solution as I love coffee and snails hate it. Otherwise, set a beer trap by putting some beer in a bowl and setting the beer into the ground so that the top is at ground level. The snails will come and party, then the birds will party on them.
Tip: Mizuna and mibuna are good companions for beans, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, marjoram, peas and strawberries. They are not suitable for growing near parsley, though.
Tony Chiodo’s Mizuna & Cucumber Salad
Try this cooling, excitingly spiced salad. Make at the last minute and eat ASAP. Serves 5
3 cups small Lebanese cucumbers
1 tbsp light sesame oil
½ tsp green chilli, finely sliced
juice of 1 orange
2 cups mizuna leaves, washed & drained
2 tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Peel the cucumbers, cut in half lengthways, remove and discard the seeds. Slice each half into 1cm-thick half moons and set aside. In a small pan, heat the oil and add the fresh chillies. Swirl to toast for 30 seconds and then quickly pour over the cucumbers. Add a splash of orange juice, then the salt and toss. Allow to rest before adding the mizuna leaves. Mound this in a deep bowl and sprinkle with the fresh mint and coriander leaves.
For anyone who loves Asian or Asianinspired cooking, coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an absolute must-have in your herb patch. This fast-growing annual, with a head a bit like that of Italian parsley, is an awesome backyard buddy and welcome in my kitchen any time.
When to plant: Autumn and again in spring.
Where to plant: To prevent bolting (going to seed) and encourage masses of tasty leaves, position your coriander where it will receive some shade in hot areas. This isn’t really necessary in temperate to cool areas unless you get scorching-hot summers.
Requirements: Like most herbs and a few other favourites (tomato and strawberry), coriander will do equally well in containers or in the vegie patch. It loves nothing more than a rich, moist soil in a nice sunny spot. If planting in pots choose an organic potting mix that’s designed for container gardening and doesn’t have all those totally unnecessary synthetic fertilisers in it. If you’re planting in your patch, work some organic matter into the soil. Coriander doesn’t really need feeding but if you feel the need to feed, a compost tea or liquid seaweed fertiliser is all that’s recommended.
Uses: There are a few ways to use coriander. Either chop off the foliage as required or pull the whole plant out of the ground (as you would a carrot) and use everything. The roots have an amazing, intense flavour, as do the stems, and, after thorough washing, will enhance your cooking enormously. Before harvesting your coriander it’s best to wait until the foliage is about 20cm high as the flavour is most intense then.
Pests: As coriander is attacked by so few pests, it is often used in companion planting because its smell is unappealing to insects.
Tip: One thing that will make coriander bolt is an erratic watering schedule. A soil with heaps of organic matter and a nice mulch layer will hold moisture longer, but don’t be frightened to jab the old moisture tester (your finger) into the bed to see how damp it is. This applies especially to coriander grown in containers, which will dry out pretty quickly, especially if in a terracotta pot. Coriander left to dry out thinks its days are numbered and bolts, but if your plants do happen to set seed, don’t despair. Just cut off the seed heads, take them inside and dry them out on a bit of baking paper. Once dry, they can be stored and used in cooking, ground or whole.
This pesto is so versatile. Use it in a stirfry or with pasta. Smear it on fish before you bake or barbecue it. Layer it between slices of eggplant, capsicum and zucchini, then bake the stacks in the oven. Mash it with avocado for a new twist on guacamole.
1 bunch coriander
20ml peanut oil or olive oil
Juice ½ lemon
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
50g peanuts or cashews, dry-roasted in a frying pan if raw
Salt & pepper
Blend coriander, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Add peanuts or cashews and blend to a lumpy paste. Season with salt and pepper.