It is difficult to decide whether to grow this plant for its delicious, delicate tasting tap root, that gives it the name ‘vegetable oyster’, or to grow it as an ornamental for its delicate edible, purple-pink flowers. Whatever your decision, salsify needs a warm sunny site, preferably on light, free-draining soil. You can sautee the roots in butter, bake, puree or cream for soup - there are lots of edible options.
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Use fresh seed as the capacity to germinate decreases rapidly and sow from March to May. Germination can be erratic so it is best to sow 2-3 seeds in stations 1-2cm (¼-¾ in) deep, 10cm (4in) apart, with 30cm (12in) between rows.
When seedlings are large enough to handle, thin to leave the strongest seedling. Alternatively, sow in rows, thinning to the correct spacing.
Grow in open, light, well-drained, stone-free soil, manured for the previous crop and carefully forked over in the case of heavier soils.
Keep weed free, hand weed to prevent damaging the roots, using an onion hoe with care, or mulch to prevent weed growth.
To harvest salsify roots from late September into winter:
Lift the roots very carefully, easing them out with a fork, as they snap easily and bleed if cut.
From autumn onwards, protect the top from frost with a layer of straw, bracken or similar. Alternatively, in very cold regions or where the soil is prone to waterlogging, lift and store the roots in sand or sawdust and keep in a cool, frost-free garage or cellar.
To harvest tender blanched shoots in spring:
Salsify roots left in the ground over winter will produce edible shoots in spring
Cut back the old leaves to within 2.5cm (1in) of the soil in early spring
When new shoots appear, cover them with a mound of soil (earth up), about 12.5–15cm (5–6in) high, to exclude light
Harvest the blanched shoots as they appear above the mound, carefully clearing away the soil around them
If growing in heavy soil, it’s better to blanch the new spring growth by covering with bracken, straw or an upturned bucket.
Spring leaves can also be cut when 15cm (6in) tall, without blanching, but are not as tender.
Plants flower and set seed prematurely.
Unless growing for seed sow bolt-resistant varieties. Sow or plant at the correct time and keep the soil or compost moist.