Hero of the Month: Red Elk Mizuna

It’s not often that a change in colour changes a leaf vegetable, but such is the case when green mizuna turns red. In its regular green, Mizuna is alright; with a nice texture and subtle bitterness, it is a solid leafy green. But it’s when it changes into red that this vegetable really lights up.
As a gardening de-traditionalist I don’t pay much attention to Latin names, but researching red mizuna I’ve had a semi light bulb moment. Brassica rapa nipponosica actually reveals a lot of useful information about this vegetable in only three, semi-ambigious works. Brassica, meaning the family of vegetable from which broccoli, kale and cabbage, amongst others, are a part of. Rapa; turnip. And nipponosica; obviously something to do with Japan. Brassica rapa nipponosica, need I say more?
My love affair with Red Mizuna is still young, for it was only one winter ago that I grew it for the first time at our St Kilda East nursery. Until then it was simply a plant that I knew of, but had never been properly introduced to. But from June 2015 until the October, Red Mizuna grew without fuss and with so much productivity. At a time when the cold can be a formidable opponent for any edible plant, the June thermostat seemed to suit it. So in August, an opportunity still exists for growing this vegetable. 
If growing now from seed, propagate in a mini greenhouse so that the earliest weeks are nicely incubated. Keep the soil moist throughout and expect germination to be quick - usually within a week. This makes it a suitable candidate for a micro green, however if you can resist that urge and wait 2-3 weeks, the young seedlings will be prepared for a permanent move to the patch.
When transplanting into pots, make sure to use a good quality organic potting mix that will be both free draining and loaded with natural fertilisers. For those planting in-ground, integrate compost through your soil to ensure it has adequate reserves of nitrogen; this element being responsible for healthy leaf growth.
As with any edible, the more light you can generate for the plant the better it will grow, but don’t be concerned if direct sunlight is not forthcoming. Filtered, reflective and residual light will all contribute to what plants demand, so consider what light is bouncing about in your garden zone. While a black wall may be well suited to your late winter mood, it will not create the right mood for growing plants.
Watering red mizuna is essentially your main task. As the plant is renown to grow quickly, keeping it hydrated with semi-daily waters (even in winter with temperatures and evaporation low) is advisable. Despite its link to the Brassica family - known for their susceptibility to an array of pests - red mizuna is largely exempt. Perhaps it’s because it excels in the cold when the white cabbage moth becomes more dormant, or it may just be that its colour and taste aren’t palatable to these creatures.
For us on the other hand, the taste and appearance are huge draw cards and we are like a bears to a honeypot. It has a sharp mustard bite combined with a hint of sorrel zest, these two qualities intensifying as the plant matures. Generally the younger the foliage, the more subtle the flavourings.  
A quick grower, red mizuna can to be cultivated from a month old. To harvest you can opt for one of two techniques. The sensible technique; taking the outer more mature leaves, allowing the younger, inner leaves to then mature. Or the chef technique; taking a pair of scissors and hacking it down to ground level. Thankfully, due to the prolific nature of this plant it is suited to either.
Maybe the best quality of red mizuna is its longevity. If we happened to live in a perpetual winter this plant would thrive all year round. Unfortunately, spring and summer are inevitable. As soon as the thermostat is lifted its natural tendency is to go to seed and form flower heads. Picking them off as they appear will keep production rolling, and this battle can be fought for many a month, but in the end it will be lost. It is the first time we blame warm nights and sunny days for ruin.
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