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Arugula (Eruca sativa) is an ancient leafy vegetable that has become tremendously popular with chefs around the globe and gourmets and keen cooks alike. Arugula, often called Rocket, is a leafy salad green with pungent, peppery leaves which are often found as a specialty item in the lettuce section of groceries and is quite pricey.
The ancient Romans called it Eruca and the old Greeks wrote about its benefits in medical texts in the first century BC.
Fortunately for all of us keen gardeners, growing arugula from seed is very easy and the seeds themselves are quite cheap. You can grow arugula in your garden, in a raised bed in your yard but also in a pot on your balcony.
Like most salad greens, arugula is an annual and does best in cooler but sunny weather. It’s a low-growing plant with dull green leaves that can be blanched to almost white when covered while still growing.
How long does it take for arugula to grow?
One of the great things about growing arugula is that you can harvest leaves in as little as four weeks after seeding. Once you pick the leaves, they make a spicy addition to salads and fresh topping to traditional Italian pizzas. Arugula tastes best in the spring and fall and is a great source of vitamin A and calcium.
How to successfully grow arugula – The ultimate guide
Growing arugula is not demanding. There are a few tips and tricks on how to seed it, look after it, protect it from pests and disease, and how to harvest it but in general growing arugula is a no-hassle and high-reward gardening project.
A pH neutral soil of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for growing arugula but it will grow in almost any kind of soil with poorer yield. Arugula is a fast-growing plant and a soil rich in organic matter will produce lots of leaves so you’ll be able to pick a few leaves daily for salads and various garnishes.
How to plant arugula
Although you can plant arugula from seedlings, it is usually easier to start from seed. You can start seed indoors, 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date, but arugula seed can handle chilly soil so you can wait and start seeding 1 to 2 weeks before the last frost date.
We recommend succession planting every couple of weeks. This will prolong your harvest and take advantage of the short season.
When to plant arugula
When you start planning when to plant arugula, bear in mind that you can plant your arugula seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked in late winter or early spring. Although arugula likes cool weather, it can be damaged or stressed by frost or snow. Keep the row covers, such as Reemay, on hand to protect your plants if extreme weather is predicted.
The seeds are tiny and should be sprinkled in rows of your arugula patch. Space it 4 inches apart on dampened soil or potting mix and cover with a thin layer of soil. The seeds should germinate within 2 weeks.
How to grow arugula indoors
Arugula is a shallow-rooted plant so you can also grow it indoors in shallow garden beds on your balconies and in various containers. You'll have more control over sun exposure in a container, but the drawback is that it will dry out more quickly.
The planting process is pretty much the same but, once you plant arugula, the soil needs to be watered regularly in order to prevent the soil from drying. For watering, we recommend getting the best watering can.
Place the containers near the windows or provide the best T5 grow lights if your windows are shaded by a tree or other buildings.
Farmers benefits of planting arugula
You can either grow arugula for your own needs or for sale. It can be really popular at farmers markets if you have a sort of niche clientele, like arugula lovers and restaurant owners.
Arugula is a crop which can be planted every single week during the main season so from the first week of May until the second or the third week of September.
The real value of arugula from the planters’ point of view is that you can plant it every single week. In the shoulder seasons, you can plant it in wider intervals but then you can plant more at a time.
The real beauty of growing it is that it grows quickly. The yields, however, change. It’s important to point that in the spring and the fall and even in the winter if you’ve got it in greenhouses, you’ll get a higher yield. You’ll also get more cuts but the time for arugula to reach maturity will be a little bit longer.
The average time to maturity for arugula is about 40 days in the summer. You can plant it and it’s ready to cut in 21 days from June until late August. In the shoulder seasons, it might take about 45 days.
So even if it takes longer to grow, you’ll get a higher yield per cut, so if you first plant arugula in the spring, your first harvest of a 50-foot bed is sometimes close to 50 pounds. At the time of the second and third cut, the yields will usually decrease a little bit each time during that period of the year.
In fact, depending on the variety you’re growing, the first cut will get you the biggest yield and then further in the summer you can just cut it once more and then turn it over because for the second cut it will start to flower and then it won’t be worth as much.
Light, temperature, watering and protection from pests
As I said, you need to keep the soil moist but not wet and your arugula seeds will sprout within four to six days. For best results, you should thin your seedlings so there is at least 4 inches in between each plant.
Regular watering will keep plants from bolting too quickly. If there’s a sudden heat wave, try to shade the plants, in addition to keeping them watered. You can also plant arugula in the shade of taller plants, like tomatoes and beans to allow for a shade beforehand.
To have a continuous harvest of arugula, plant more seeds every three weeks. Most gardeners stop planting once daytime temperatures average 70 degrees in the spring. Arugula grows best in a sunny location although it tolerates some shade, particularly when summer temperatures rise.
If you start planting in the fall, it’s best to stop sowing seeds about a month before the first forecasted frost date.
As for the pests, the most common arugula pests are flea beetles. As they eat your arugula, flea beetles leave distinctive little pinholes in the leaves. What you can do to protect your plants is either use Diatomaceous earth or patch covers like Reemay.
Diatomaceous earth can be scattered over the leaves to kill all soft-bodied insects, which can be beneficial as well as harmful. If you opt for Diatomaceous earth, make sure that the product is labeled “food safe”, especially if you have small children or pets.
A non-toxic alternative is to cover the rows with Reemay, a fabric which keeps out insects but allows light and water to pass through. Simply drape it over the plants and pin it in place.
How to harvest arugula
From seed to harvest, it takes about four weeks which is about as close as you can come to instant fruits of your labor. The plants will grow to a height of 1-2 feet but will remain fairly low until the summer heat forces it to bolt.
You can begin harvesting arugula once the leaves are about 4 inches long. This can take as little as 30 days and during this time, you can pick only a few leaves from each plant so your arugula can continue to produce more leaves until it reaches full maturity.
There are three ways to harvest arugula: graze, cut, or pull. Grazing means pinching a couple of leaves off the plants and leaving the rest to grow. You can graze early in the season, as soon as the leaves are a couple of inches long.
The second method is cutting up to 1/3 of the plant with shears. As with grazing, the plants will grow back.
The third option is pulling out the entire plant. You can do this toward the end of the season when the plant elongates and flowers begin to form (which is called bolting). To keep wilting to a minimum, don’t pick arugula leaves in full sun.
Arugula reaches maturity in 45 to 60 days. At this point, the plant will flower and go to seed. Because mature arugula leaves have a bitter taste, you should harvest the entire plant before it flowers.
Excessive heat and lack of water will also force your arugula plant to flower quickly, making the leaves bitter.
How to grow arugula from seed
Growing arugula sprouts from seed is a fast, fresh and simple way to grow healthy food at home. You harvest sprouts young, right after the first germination and growing stage.
Arugula (Eruca sativa) is an annual salad green with a spicy flavor. You can grow arugula sprouts for a healthy, fresh, green vegetable any time of year.
To grow Arugula from seeds, you can use a seed flat, filled with a damp soilless planting medium, like peat moss, perlite or vermiculite, or use a commercial seed-starting blend.
The traditional sprouting methods, using a jar, paper towel or cloth bag, do not apply to arugula. The Arugula seeds have a mucus-like coating. Without a soil-like medium for support, the seeds will get slimy and fail to germinate.
To prepare the seeds for sprouting, rinse them and then scatter them on the top of the soilless mix about 1/16 inches apart.
During the first stages of germination, arugula seeds don’t need additional nutrients to grow. The seeds contain all the nutrients they need to germinate, put down a few roots and develop the first set of leaves, called seed leaves.
If you are growing the seeds to maturity, arugula will need fertilizer and potting soil, but for growing sprouts, the seeds only need moisture, a sterile medium, and warmth. Make sure to sprinkle the medium with water when it starts to dry out on top.
You can harvest arugula sprouts when they turn green and develop two leaves on top. Simply clip the sprouts at the soil line and that’s it! The sprouts are best used fresh, but you can also store them in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Arugula - a tasty culinary addition
Arugulas peppery taste adds that extra “oomph” to your salads, pizzas, and soup. In fact, it can spice up most of your everyday dishes.
All arugula is not alike. You will find the commercial brands a milder and less interesting than those you have grown in your own garden. There is also a variety called wild arugula (Diplotaxis muralis), which is both botanically and culinary different from regular arugula (Eruca sativa). The wild arugula is stronger, with a more pronounced pepperiness so it comes down to tastes but most people seem to like the regular variety better.
The good thing about arugula is that it needs little cooking. This makes it a fun and spontaneous addition to many of your favorite dishes. Bear in mind that overcooking arugula makes it a little too slimy and diminishes its flavor, so it’s a great practice to add it last, sometimes even just before serving. Here are some of the most popular Arugula recipes. Bon appétit!