Home-grown crispy ‘kai lan’
Published on: Sunday, January 12, 2020
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Sowing seedlings in a small pot for transplanting later on.
WHENEVER one walks around the Central Market, it is almost always impossible not to notice the large number of varieties of vegetables that are available for sale to consumers.  

You can easily find bayam, choysam, kangkung, tomatoes, longbeans, pakchoy, brinjals and kai lan, among others.  But of these many varieties of vegetables, kai lan is obviously one of the most popular.  It is widely grown not only by commercial growers but also among gardening enthusiasts as well.

The name kai lan is synonymous with many appetizing dishes.  Depending on the way the vegetable is prepared and served, it may be looked upon either as an economical vegetable or a luxurious food item.  

This is evidenced by the fact that food shops in town serve the vegetable in different ways and they therefore charge different prices for it.  In the posh restaurants, a serving of kai lan laced with a load of abalone with sea cucumber and mushroom thrown in together with a pinch or dollop of this and that can easily cost 15-20 times that of a plate of the vegetable served in a roadside food stall.

Basically, kai lan is a green leafy vegetable that is grown mainly for its edible leaves.  However, the thick stems are also much cherished as a food item as they are very crispy, fine and sweet.  It is therefore a very popular vegetable among consumers everywhere.

Kai lan is easily available and is widely sold. At times, they are sold according to the weight but usually, it is bundled up that goes for a ringgit each four decades ago.  Today, the price is two ringgit each, take it or leave it.  But when there is a reduction in supply, vendors may still sell at the same price but with a reduced number of stalks of the vegetable per bundle.  As the profit margin is extremely thin, most vendors are just struggling and scrapping by to make ends meet, considering that the cost of living has reached the sky while the revenue from the sale of vegetables is still grovelling on the ground.

Belonging to the family of Crucifers, kai lan is a variety of Brassica that is loved by people of all backgrounds.  It is a herbaceous annual that has a number of cultivars. Many varieties are available in our country.  

These varieties have leaves that are usually covered with a fine layer of minute superficial deposits on the external face of the epidermis, and as a result of this, the leaves appear to be powdery and silvery white in colour.  Some varieties have longer leaf stalks and smoother leaf blades which are shaped oval to round, while others may have shorter leaf stalks but thicker stems and smaller leaves.

Some consumers like to eat more leaves than stems, while the reverse is true for many others.  Whatever it is, most gardening enthusiasts find that growing kai lan is an easy job. Apart from that, growers are usually well-rewarded with gorgeous harvests in as short a time as 40-50 days from sowing of seeds. Moreover, home-grown kai lan removes a lot of anxiety over the presence of toxic chemicals that unscrupulous farmers apply to produce hole-free vegetables.

In terms of cost of inputs, it is just a paltry ringgit or two per square metre, or just sufficient to serve eight to nine pots if the set-up is a container garden up there somewhere in condos, apartments or flats.


Seedlings removed for transplanting onto planting beds.


Basic requirements

Under out climatic conditions, the cultivation of kai lan is most suitable and can easily be breezed through right from sowing of seeds until the time it is served on the table.  The range of temperatures and rainfall, plus some watering, weeding and manuring, should add to the ease in which kai lan can be had from the soil.  

Suitable soils for kai lan include those that are fertile, well-drained and well-enriched loam or sandy loam.  Even peaty soils may be used if the right cultural methods are practised but it is strongly suggested that peat soils be left alone without disturbance by agriculture or any other forms of development.  

Kai lan may be grown protected under greenhouses, but it still needs to be provided with sufficient bright light for best growth.  This means an investor can easily set up a production centre for kai lan as well as other vegetables without clearing land and expanding the carbon footprint.  A multi-story building with each story having multiple levels should be able to produce tons and tons of high value vegetables for the local as well as the export market.


A tray of freshly harvested kai lan ready 

to be sent to the kitchen to be cooked.


Soil and seedling preparation

To save on seeds, pre-germination is recommended. This involves the sowing of seeds in seed boxes, germination beds or germination pots so that everything is under better control.  In container cultivation, seeds may be sown directly into pots, boxes or tins where a few seedlings may be thinned later on and then removed and replanted elsewhere. 

Kai lan seeds grow more slowly than a number of other vegetables, but within two weeks, the seedlings should attain a height of between 5-10cm.  At this stage and height, they can be transplanted onto the planting beds or boxes.  In the case of container-bound plants, they should be allowed to grow on after thinning, and should be ready for harvesting in another three weeks or so.

However, prior to transplanting, the soil in the planting bed should be prepared and readied one to two weeks earlier.  The soil should be loosened to a depth of 30cm. At the same time, it should be well-manured with organic material such as decomposed chicken dung or compost.  

If compound fertiliser is available, a generous application is recommended.  In places where the soil is prone to waterlogging or flooding, raising the soil level of the planting bed often helps to prevent the occurrence of plant rot as a result of rotten roots.

A small bed of kai lan in the backyard.  It looks very open but in about 10 days’ time when they are ready for

 harvesting, the entire bed should be very packed.



Method of planting

Seedlings about two weeks old should be ready for transplanting onto the planting beds.  But do make sure that before transplanting, the seedlings should be gradually hardened so that the little plants are able to withstand full-sun conditions without sunscorch.

When transplanting, make sure that the roots are disturbed as little as possible.  However, it is impossible not to expose the roots but take care not to damage or squash them.  

The seedlings are normally transplanted into little holes deep enough to prevent the plants from becoming straggly and falling over each other as they grow.

Seedlings should be set in approximately straight rows along the planting bed. The distance between each row should be from 10-20cm, while the distance between plants within each row should be about 10cm. For the typical gardening enthusiast, spacing is more a matter of convenience that anything else.  

Closer spacing allows for more plants per unit area and also provides mutual support to reduce incidences of plants falling over each other, whereas wider spacing has less plants per unit area.  Such plants, although likely to grow bigger, have a greater tendency to topple over, but with the application of mulches, the problem may be reduced.


General upkeep

When transplanting has been completed, the seedlings should be watered three to four times a day under hot and dry weather conditions and if no shade is provided. The high frequency of watering is to ensure that the soil is kept moist all the time for the roots of the seedlings to establish quickly.  

After about three to six days, the frequency of watering may be reduced to twice a day, that is, once in the morning and once more in the evening.

The first fertilisers or manure may be applied one week after transplanting.  These should be applied in the inter-row spaces. A soluble, high-nitrogen fertiliser may also be applied in the form a foliar spray.  

Thereafter, such applications and fertilisers should be applied at weekly or 10-day intervals.  In the absence of a suitable manure or fertiliser, a good home-made compost should serve the purpose well.

The control of pests and diseases is also a problem that many gardening enthusiasts have encountered.  This is likely to occur especially if the same vegetable is cultivated on the same plot year in and year out. The scenario is different in pot cultivation because you can remove the pot upstairs if you see pests coming to take a bite or two, or caterpillars slithering forward to chew up your precious plants.

A good way to reduce pest attack problems is to keep the plot and its surroundings clean and free of garbage, organic garden wastes, weeds and other throwaways. Snails, slugs and caterpillars are easy to remove but those flying critters such as grasshoppers may be a problem.  

It is quite impossible to swat them away and to use chemicals is not recommended.  The best way is to regularly change the type of plants grown on the same plot so as to deter regular attacks by the same pest.



This is the moment of joy and happiness that gardening enthusiasts have always been waiting for, which is about three to four weeks after transplanting.  

With home-grown kai lans, it is normal to select the choicest plants to harvest first, which is usually carried out by cutting the base of the plant using a sharp knife or garden secateurs. Alternatively, the entire plant may be pulled out and then lightly shaking off the soil.

And remember, don’t wait too long to do the harvesting, as it is always safer and more assured once the juicy tender vegetable is in the tummy rather than be chewed up by some nasty little critters out there.

Jom makan, folks!


l The writer may be reached at: onggrow@yahoo.com

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