Today we’re talking about how to cultivate arugula organically. This tasty and unique plant is widely used in both home cooking and restaurants (for example, it’s a fundamental ingredient in many pizza flavors). A strange phenomenon surrounding its commercialization is that it’s mostly sold in pre-packaged plastic bags (often at a high price). Packaged vegetables carry the risk of harboring bacteria and health problems. Recently, there was news in England about a problem related to bagged arugula, which highlights the need to grow it yourself. The good news is that cultivating arugula is straightforward, whether in the garden or on your balcony, regardless of your location and the time of year.
Growing arugula yields abundant crops since the plants allow for multiple harvests. Additionally, home-grown arugula has a superior aroma and flavor compared to the bland taste of bagged products found in large supermarkets.
Types of Arugula
Before discussing how to cultivate arugula, let’s distinguish between the cultivated and wild varieties. The choice of which variety to grow depends on your preferences and the type of seeds you’ll use. For the purposes of this article, we’ll speak generally about arugula, as the cultivation techniques are almost identical for both types.
Eruca sativa (cultivated arugula) is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family. It is characterized by its broad leaves, which can grow up to 20 cm long, and have an intense green color and thickness. The aroma and taste are highly pronounced, with a bitter, slightly spicy flavor.
Diplotaxis tenuifolia (Wild arugula) is a perennial plant from the same family as cultivated arugula, but with slightly different characteristics. Its leaves are narrower, even more serrated, and have a light green color, and are less thick. It has an even more distinctive taste, with pronounced bitterness and spiciness. Despite the name, wild arugula is currently the more cultivated and used variety in the restaurant industry.
Nutritional Values of Arugula
Whether cultivated or wild, arugula is an exceptionally nutritious plant with various beneficial properties for the body. It is composed of 92% water and contains only 25 calories per 100 grams, making it an ideal food for low-calorie diets. Its content of carbohydrates and fats is very limited, with only 3.7g of carbohydrates and 0.7g of fat per 100g of product. Arugula is cholesterol-free and rich in essential minerals, including 468 mg of potassium, 309 mg of calcium, 27 mg of sodium, and 5.2 mg of iron per 100g.
This plant is also a rich source of vitamins, such as Vitamin A, various B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and Vitamin J. It contains Beta-Carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are potent antioxidants.
Health Benefits of Arugula
Let’s now explore the health benefits of this plant for the body:
- Digestive and Diuretic Action: Its high potassium and other mineral content give it digestive properties by promoting gastric juice production. This plant facilitates the elimination of excess fluids from the body and is thus a good diuretic. Additionally, it can help reduce blood pressure due to this quality.
- Antioxidant Action: Thanks to the presence of Vitamins A, C, and E, and components such as beta-carotene and other antioxidants, this plant helps counteract free radicals responsible for aging.
- Anemic Benefits: Its significant iron content makes it an ideal vegetable for those with anemia or in need of additional iron intake.
- Metabolism Support: The B-group vitamins present in this plant support cellular activities, including energy production, red blood cell production, and other processes that positively influence metabolism.
How to Cultivate Arugula
Cultivating arugula is a straightforward process that can yield great satisfaction. It adapts well to both the garden and balcony container gardening.
Arugula can be grown all year round. The only weather condition it fears is frost, especially if repeated over time. However, this holds true for most of the vegetables we’ve discussed so far. The ideal climate for cultivating arugula is cool, such as during spring and autumn.
Seeding is simple, as it germinates very quickly—less than a week to see the first sprouts. For example, you can sow it directly in the ground in early September and have a productive crop after 45 days. For spring cultivation, you can start sowing this plant as early as February, and you’ll be able to harvest and consume your plants the following month.
Direct Seeding and Transplant Spacing
Arugula can be directly seeded in the ground, and then small seedlings can be thinned out later.
In the thinning process, make sure to maintain a distance of at least 10 cm between the young plants to allow for proper growth. If you do this correctly, your dedicated arugula patch should appear dense yet balanced.
Another way to cultivate arugula is by creating a seedbed and then transplanting the seedlings into the ground. In this case, you can put 2-3 seeds in each polystyrene hole to have a seedling ready for planting in the field after about 15 days. During transplantation, keep a distance of at least 15 cm between the plants and 20 cm between rows.
How to Grow Arugula on the Balcony
Growing arugula is an ideal operation to do in pots on the balcony. In this case, it is advisable to sow the seeds directly, trying to distribute them evenly.
Choose a large pot with a diameter of at least 20 cm. Use good soil to which you can add a little pelleted fertilizer to be buried about 15 cm deep. Regarding irrigation in pots, make sure the soil is always moist. When the soil is excessively dry, it makes the leaves harden. After about 40 days from sowing, you can start harvesting your arugula, which will always be at your fingertips for various culinary preparations.
Soil, Irrigation, and Mulching in Open Field
To grow arugula in open fields, we will need well-worked, soft, and aerated soil. In this case, you can also use organic pelleted fertilizer in pre-sowing. This will provide the plant with all the necessary nutrients for its lush growth.
For irrigation in open fields, if the arugula crop is in autumn/winter, you can easily avoid drip irrigation. For the spring and summer period, it is instead advisable. In this article, we discover how to create a DIY irrigation system that is not too complicated.
The soil must always be kept moist, but waterlogging must be absolutely avoided.
The plant is very resistant to rain and, in fact, benefits from it, so in case of precipitation, you can save on forced irrigation water.
To further save on water supply, it is advisable to perform mulching with straw, which will also help control weeds that limit the growth of arugula.
One of the great peculiarities of arugula cultivation lies in the harvest. Whether you are growing in pots or in open fields, you will not harvest only once but will have successive shoots.
Simply cut the plant just above the base and leave the rest with the root. You will notice that after a while, the growth will resume regularly. After about 20 days, you will have a new harvest from the same plant.
After a certain number of harvests, typically 6-7, the plant will begin to slow down its production. Then, if it is spring-summer, stalks will lengthen from which flowers will emerge.
The flowers are a sign that the plant has completed its production cycle. At this point, it’s up to you to decide whether to let the plant mature completely and collect the seeds or to harvest it for the last time with all the roots, enjoy your last salad, and start a new cultivation.
Biological Pest Defense
To grow arugula, it is necessary to pay attention to attacks by pests, especially snails (here’s how to keep snails away from the garden).
Another very dangerous parasitic insect is the flea beetle, Chaetocnema tibialis, known as the plant flea due to its small size and ability to make long jumps.
The damage this parasite causes to arugula, as well as to many other crops like chard or eggplant, depends on its feeding activity. It causes numerous circular holes in the leaves, making the product no longer appreciable in terms of quality.
Biological defense against this annoying insect is very complex, as it is quite resistant. If you notice its presence in your ecosystem, you must act immediately. We recommend using large quantities of biological repellents such as nettle macerate or garlic infusion.