By: Heather Rhoades
The salsify plant (Tragopogon porrifolius) is an old-fashioned vegetable that is very hard to find in the grocery store, which means that salsify as a garden plant is fun and unusual. Common names for this vegetable include oyster plant and vegetable oyster, due to its distinct oyster flavor. Planting salsify is easy. Let’s take a look at what is required to grow salsify.
The best time to plant salsify is in early spring in areas that get snow, and early autumn in areas where snow does not fall. It takes about 100 – 120 days for salsify plants to reach harvesting size and they prefer cool weather. When you grow salsify, you’ll be starting with seeds. Plant salsify seeds about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) apart and ½ inch (1.27 cm.) deep. Seeds should germinate in about a week but can take up to three weeks to sprout.
Once the salsify seeds have sprouted and are about 2 inches (5 cm.) high, thin them to 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm.) apart.
Growing salsify will need frequent weeding. Because it is slow growing, fast-growing weeds can quickly overtake it and choke out the salsify plant.
It is best to grow salsify in loose and rich soil. Much like carrots and parsnips, the easier it is for the roots to get into the soil, the bigger the roots will grow, which will result in a better harvest.
When growing salsify, it’s also important to keep the plant well watered. Even and adequate watering will keep the salsify roots from becoming fibrous.
Also be sure to shade plants during high temperatures. Salsify grows best in cooler temperatures and can get tough if the temperatures rise above 85 F. (29 C.) Shading your salsify in temperatures like this can help keep your salsify tender and tasty.
If you planted your salsify in spring, you’ll be harvesting it in the fall. If you planted salsify in the fall, you’ll harvest it in the spring. Most gardeners who grow salsify recommend waiting until after a few frosts have hit the plant before harvesting. The thought is that the cold will “sweeten” the root. This may or may not be true, but it doesn’t hurt to grow salsify in the ground while there is frost in order to extend the storage time.
When harvesting salsify, keep in mind that the roots can go down a full foot (30.4 cm.) and breaking the root can dramatically reduce the storage time. Because of this, when you harvest salsify, you want to make sure that you lift the whole root out of the ground without breaking it. Use a spading fork or shovel, dig down alongside the plant, being sure to allow for avoiding the root as you go down. Gently lift the root out of the ground.
Once the root is out of the ground, brush the dirt off and remove the tops. Allow the harvested root to dry in a cool, dry place. Once the root is dry, you can continue to store in the cool, dry place or in your refrigerator.
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So, I want to try again. I would like to try regular and Scorzonera hispanica (black or Spanish salsify) together. I'd also like to try parsnips again.
Anyway, are there any gastrointestinal issues with either salsify? I love Jerusalem artichokes but just can't bring myself to eat them any more as they tend to give me extreme GI upset to the point of pain. I also don't grow them as I need the space for other vegetables that may more easily fit into dietary needs.
Any tips to growing salsify? Comparison between the two plants mentioned above?
Always looking for interesting plants for pollinators and food! Bonus points for highly, and pleasantly scented plants.
"Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit." [“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”] -- Marcus Tullius Cicero in Ad Familiares IX, 4, to Varro. 46 BCE
Okay, okay, I know you’re stumped now and thinking “what on earth is this chic talking about.” But just bear with me a moment. Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) comes from 16th century Italy, and eventually made its way into other parts of Europe, where it became rather popular. It has long, parsnip-like roots and creamy white skin – the roots of Mammoth Sandwich Island are about 8 to 9 inches long and likely the reason for its ‘mammoth’ name. It is often known as “vegetable oyster” because of its delicate, oyster-like flavor, which has a subtle hint of artichoke hearts. The roots are often incorporated into soups or stews, or sliced and eaten fried, poached, boiled, steamed and served with cream.
Mammoth Sandwich Island salsify is an heirloom plant that is thought to have developed in the United States in the 1860s and grown widely during the nineteenth century, though some suggest it was earlier. Little specific Mammoth Sandwich Salsify info is available, but gardeners and seed companies noted their appreciation of its delicious flavor, generous yield and attractive, pinkish-purple blooms. So at the very least, you could always grow the plant as an ornamental. Growing this salsify variety isn’t difficult, and seeds are available from vendors that specialize in heirloom plants.
Salsify is a biennial that calls for minimal care, perhaps only regular watering in case of high temperatures.
To grow larger salsify, feel free to remove floral scapes as soon as they appear. It you let them grow, then root growth will slow down.
Salsify is a vegetable that is quite easy-growing and it fears only very few diseases.
Nonetheless, it may be that your plants appeal to slugs and caterpillars…
There are some people who will argue vehemently that growing vegetables in a tire is not safe. There’s no official word from the health or horticultural officials that rules on either side, but if you familiarize yourself with the basics, it’s really not that scary.
The one thing you do need to realize is that tires are toxic. They contain lots of metals and chemicals to which you should not expose your body to.
However, the other side of the argument is that tires are very difficult to get rid of legally. As a result, tires are building up and creating an issue with waste.
Plus, tires degrade extremely slowly. There is a certain amount of off-gassing that occurs in tires early on, but this is usually in the first year or so that the tire exists and not when you would actually be planting in it. It almost always occurs when the tire is on the car and not around your vegetables.
By the time you place the tire in your garden, it will be breaking down slowly – on more of a twenty-year basis instead of a two-month basis. Given that the time for growing vegetables is very short, and leaching is very slow, the risk from growing vegetables in tires is probably less than what you would be exposing yourself to when eating non-organic produce from the supermarket.
Of course, this hasn’t been studied on a formal basis, so it’s difficult to say whether it is definitely safe or not. If you’re really concerned about the safety issue, you could always grow flowers (which you won’t eat) in your tires.
As I mentioned earlier, a tire garden can simply be too warm for certain types of crops. I’ve found those that do best in the tire are the plants that like being grown in warm soil – such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and peppers. Try to avoid cold-hardy crops in the tire, especially if you plan on keeping it the original black color (it will absorb the heat).
There are very few people who would argue that tires actually look good sitting on your front lawn. However, you don’t have to keep them looking black, bland, and unattractive. You can easily spruce up your tires with a coat or two of paint.
You can paint them to match your decor and as long as you’re only painting the outside, you really don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching into your soil.
Salsify and scorzonera are related to dandelions by way of a daisy chain. Salsify and scorzonera are root vegetables that are part of the dandelion branch of the daisy family tree, and both, naturally, are easy to grow. Salsify, though, has a white root while scorzonera has a black root. Salsify is known as oyster plant or oyster vegetable thanks to its oyster-like flavor.
Choose a space with well-drained loamy or sandy soil that receives full sun and where the soil contains rich deposits of organic material. The pH level should be between 6.0 and 6.8. If you are planting your salsify in the spring, be prepared to provide shade when summer temperatures are above 85°F (29°C) to prevent the roots from becoming stringy and tough.
Salsify grows from seed, and the seeds germinate in about a week, but they can take up to three weeks before they are ready to transplant. If you are starting your seeds indoors, you should transplant your salsify about two weeks before the last frost date in your area. This means you need to start your seeds indoors five to six weeks before the last frost date in your area.
If you intend to sow your seeds directly in your garden, sow them three to four weeks before the last frost date in your area.
For a winter or spring harvest, wait to sow your seeds until mid to late fall after temperatures have cooled to below 85°F (29°C). If you have harsh winters, cover the soil with a layer of straw 2 feet thick.
Because salsify is a root plant and the roots grow approximately 12 inches deep, the soil needs to be thoroughly worked to at least that depth. All rocks need to be removed, and clumps of soil need to be broken up completely. Obstacles like rocks and clumped soil cause the roots to fork. Work the soil in the fall for spring planting or at least two weeks before fall planting. Add compost as you work the soil, but avoid adding manure as too much nitrogen causes the roots to split.
If you are starting the seeds indoors in peat pots, space them 1/2 inch apart and cover them with 1/2 inch of soil.
Transplant the seedlings when they are 3 inches to 4 inches tall. Create ruts that are 18 inches to 24 inches apart and deep enough for the roots of the seedlings. Break the peat pot away from the soil around the roots and loosen the soil if necessary, but don’t remove it entirely. Space the seedlings 3 inches to 4 inches apart and cover them so that just the tip of the top of the root shows above ground.
If you sow the seeds directly in the garden, create ruts that are 1 inch deep and 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Space the seeds 1/2 inch apart, and cover them with 1 inch of soil. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them so that they are 3 inches to 4 inches apart.
Salsify’s companion plants include:
Keep your salsify watered evenly to prevent the roots from splitting.
Salsify has almost no problem with disease or pests, but, because salsify grows slowly, it can be overshadowed by faster growing weeds. Consequently, you will need to keep your salsify well weeded. Keep in mind, though, that salsify resembles small twigs when it first sprouts, so if you have started your seeds directly in your garden, be careful not to uproot them as you weed.
About midway through the growing season, add compost around the plants, again, avoid using manure.
You can use the lighter colored, lower part of the leaves in salads, and the flowers also are edible.
When harvesting the roots, be careful not to break or damage them as that will reduce the amount of time you can store them. Place a shovel or a harvesting fork into the ground beside the plant deeper than where the root would grow and tilt the shovel or fork to lift up under the plant.
You can store salsify grown for fall or winter harvest in the ground. Dig up what you will need for the harshest part of the winter before the ground freezes, and then cover the rest with a layer of straw 2 feet thick. Dig up the remainder of your crop in the spring before the plants begin to grow again, or allow them to come up in the spring to harvest the blossoms or to let the plants produce seeds for harvesting.
You can store the roots that you harvest for up to four months by trimming off the leaves and placing them in moist sand in a dark location that maintains a temperature of 32°F (0°C). Roots can be refrigerated for three to four weeks.
Root crops aren’t the best choices for container gardens. You will need to choose a container deep enough to accommodate the long roots and has bottom drainage.
Tragopogon Porrifolius, Biennial
Salsify is an "old fashioned" root crop, that is not commonly grown in home vegetable gardens. It is a slow growing root crop, grown similar to carrots. We encourage you to give this easy to grow vegetable a try. You'll be glad that you did!
Salsify plants have grass-like leaves and purple flowers. It is grown for its long, thick root, growing up to a foot in length. It can be peeled and cooked like mashed potatoes.
Salsify is also called the Oyster Plant and Vegetable Oyster, for it's oyster-like flavor.
Did You Know? Salsify is related to dandelions and chicory.
There are not many varieties of salsify plants. The most common variety is Mammoth Sandwich Island .
While Salsify plants are classified as biennials, they are grown as annuals.
Salsify is slow growing. It requires 110 - 150 days to reach maturity.
This cool weather plant, is very cold tolerant.
Directly sow Salsify seeds into the garden, as early as the ground can be worked in the spring.
Sow seeds 1/2" deep and 1 to 2 inches apart.
Final spacing should be 6-10 inches apart.
Seed Germination: 7-21 days How to Grow Salsify Roots:
Salsify is slow growing, yet it an easy to grow root crop.
It is a cool weather plant, that tolerates cold weather and frost.
The roots need loose, deep soil for best growth. Prior to sowing seeds, prepare the soil to a foot deep. Remove rocks and hard debris up to a foot deep.
Fertilize at planting, and again in mid summer, with a general purpose fertilizer. Do not over fertilize the plants. Over fertilizing can cause forked and split roots.
Keep plants well and deeply watered, especially in droughts and hot weather. Dry soils can cause roots to become tough and fibrous.
It is important to keep the plants well weeded, especially when the plants are young. Weeds can overcrowd slow growing Salsify.
The plants grow best in cool weather. Shade plants in hot weather, over 85 degrees.
If possible, wait to harvest roots until after the first frost. Cold weather improves flavor.
Do not try to pull up roots by the stems. Dig deeply around roots with a spade, to avoid breaking the roots.
Brush off roots and remove the stems. Place in a cool, dry place to dry for a few weeks. Or, store in the refrigerator.
Salsify roots are seldom bothers by insects or pests.