Salsify is a biennial root vegetable related to dandelions, it is best grown in cooler weather much the same as many brassicas.
Although it can be sown in early spring, and even when there is still chance of a frost, it takes time to mature – up to 150 days [120 to 150 days], and is best harvested in the early to mid Autumn for the highest quality.
Salsify withstands freezing temperatures, leaving roots in the ground during the winter is not a major problem. However, the longer it is in the ground after maturity, the lower its quality.
Soil temperature should be a bare minimum of 35 degrees F preferably hovering around 40 degrees F before direct seeding salsify. Seeds can also be started indoors in late winter for transplant of seedlings out into the garden.
Temperatures should around 50 degrees F – [that’s air temperature – not soil temp.] before transplanting. A brief hardening off period is advisable.
In warmer regions with mild winters, salsify can be sown in early autumn for a winter harvest. If your timing is off or Mother Nature does not cooperate try not to leave salsify growing during the dog days of summer – warm / hot weather produces woody and unpalatable roots. Even if immature harvest before any extended periods of high temperatures set in.
Although salsify is a biennial, it is most commonly grown as an annual. It takes two seasons to complete its biological life-cycle.
In the first year it grows its greenery and roots. After a winter dormancy it emerges and produces flowers and seed to complete its reproductive cycle. Unless you are planning on seed saving, the second years growth is useless from an edible gardeners point of view. Although the flowers are ‘purdy’
The carrot like roots of salsify are what it is grown for. The root is similar in appearance to parsnips being whitish, long and tapered. [There are also purple and black varieties] The texture of salsify is soft – not crunchy like parsnip or carrot root. The taste is very mild and has been compared to oysters, it tastes very little like any other root crops.
Full sun is a must.
Soil – Rich humus is best – added compost or manure is not advisable for seedlings as excess fertilizer can cause the roots to split, fork and become undesirable.
Wait till mid season to add compost or additional fertilizer. So long as you started with a decent soil and you maintain an adequate pH you shouldn’t really need it.
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0 – you can go a tad lower but try not to exceed 7.0
Seeds can be sown just as you would carrots spaced about 1/2 inch apart and 1/4 to 1/2 inches deep. If you are growing more than one row, try to space them about 1.5 to 2 feet apart. You may need to thin seedlings once they sprout.
Uniform moisture should be supplied on a regular basis. A light layer of organic mulch is a good idea for water retention and insect suppression.
Salsify is eaten raw or prepared just as most other root vegetables. My last crop I whipped up like mashed potatoes – a little olive oil some salt and pepper and it was like mash potatoes on crack.
To prepare, run cold water over it and scrub gently, peel it like a potato – the outer skin is not all that tasty and only detracts form the rest of the vegetable.
Cut it into bite size chunks if you are going to mash it this will be easier. It can also be steamed or stored. If you plan on storing it is best dunked in vinegar or even lemon juice first to preserve the color and forestall decay.