Eruca sativa is the garden rocket and Diplotaxis tenuifolia is the wild rocket
There are two varieties of rocket. The garden rocket with lobed leaves and white flowers and the wild rocket with deeply serrated leaves and yellow flowers. Both have deep green leaves with a spicy, nutty flavour, the later variety being more peppery. Rocket is a herbaceous plant that can grow up to 1 m high. Both varieties originate from the Mediterranean where they grow as weeds in the wild. Rocket is reported to be rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. The spiciness intensifies as the plant gets older. If rocket goes to flower it shows the typical cross-shaped flower of the cabbage family with four petals. Being a member of the cabbage family the whole plant is edible, so the beautiful flowers can be used to decorate food and also come with a peppery taste.
How to grow:
Sow directly 0.5 to 1 cm deep into fertilised, well drained soil. Choose a sunny or partial shady spot. A cooler, more shady position is necessary when grown in Summer. Keep moist. Seedlings appear in 8 to 10 days. Grow plants 15 – 20 cm apart. Keep well watered. Apply a light liquid fertiliser or wormjuice every second week while it is productive.
Cut shoots out when it is going to flower. Harvest regularly. Re-seed for ongoing supply every 4 weeks.
Harvest in 5 to 7 weeks.
Growing in the neighbourhood:
Likes to grow with lettuce, marigold
Pests and other problems and how we deal with them:
Caterpillars of butterflies, especially the white cabbage butterfly are pests on rocket. We keep them out by netting the bed with a 5-10 mm net as long as the plants are small. A bit of leaf loss on mature plants is tolerable, if caterpillars take away too much leaf material we spray the plants with a bacterial solution that controls them.
All members of the cabbage family can be affected by a single-celled organism deforming the roots and making it hard for the plants to take up water. The problem is called club root and requires serious soil treatment. We try to avoid this by strictly rotating crops.
Autumn and Spring to early Summer, bolts easily when it’s hot
Rocket cross pollinates with other plants of the cabbage family. In order to collect useful seeds the mother-plant would need to be kept isolated.
How to harvest and use:
Pick leaves. Cut plant back to 40 cm high while harvesting at least once a month. Stems go to the compost, as do plants that are not productive anymore.
Rocket is used raw and cooked. It’s a great addition to salads. A standard is rocket with sun-dried tomatoes, chards of Parmesan cheese, roasted pine-nuts and a dressing made from balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Throw it on pizzas, shortly before they are finished cooking. Roughly chop it and and fold it into pasta with tomato sauce. Use it as a peppery herb in vegetable soups. It pairs well with citrus, roasted beets, pears and blue cheeses.