Who doesn't love a little peppery rocket in their salad? And who hasn't gone to the fridge and found a bag of sorry looking rocket that is more limp than lovely! The solution is simple. And that is to grow your own.
Rocket can either be started off in small pots on the windowsill, in the greenhouse, or it can be sown directly outside.
Sow seeds inside from March to June or outside from June to September. Sow small amounts at regular intervals (say every 3 to 4 weeks) so that you don't create your own rocket glut and instead have a nice steady supply all summer long.
Choose a sunny spot with rich, fertile well drained soil. Sow thinly, 0.5-1cm (¼- ½in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart.
Keep the seedlings covered with a Easy Poly Tunnel or a Victorian Bell Cloche during the Spring and with a Easy Net Tunnel or a Easy Fleece Lantern Cloche during the hotter months, This helps to protect them and speed up their growth. When the seedlings are big enough to handle, thin them out a little and use the thinnings in salad. Your first taste of home grown rocket!
Rocket very quickly goes to seed once it has matured, keeping it watered well can help stall this and stop it bolting. As flower buds appear, pinch them out to prolong cropping, unless you want the plants to set seed. The flower buds can also be used in salads.
If you do turn your back for a moment and find your rocket bolted then you can always harvest the seeds for next year and tell people it was deliberate! This means the next sowing has cost you nothing which will make it taste even better!
Provide some shade in really hot weather as too much sun will make the leaves tough and not nice to eat. Also, try not to over water as this will dilute the taste.
Flea beetle are sometimes a problem on rocket. The leaves will become covered in small holes and damaged areas turn brown. To prevent this use fleece, especially whilst its still young, and keep the soil moist. If you water in nitrogen-rich fertilser then the crop can recover from this .
Harvest lasts from April to November but you can pick your fist leaves around 4 weeks after planting. Don't pick all the leaves form one plant as this will weaken its growth. Instead, pick a few leaves from each plant and they will keep providing so you can ‘cut-and-come-again’ for much longer.
Try to pick just what you need but if you do pick more you can store them in a paper bag (will work just as well as a plastic one without the environmental impact) in a cool place for 2-4 days. Don’t let the rocket get too cold or it will wilt as soon as it warms up.
Rocket adds a great peppery taste to salads. It is delicious with a balsamic vinegar dressing, in a bacon butty or scattered over pasta.
For grow a whole range of salads along with your rocket see our Grow at Home: Salad Leaves Blog too.