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Salsify and Scorzonera

UK Garden Centre - Information about Salsify and Scorzonera

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You will find these two root vegetables in all the seed catalogues but in very few gardens. They have been around for centuries, but they still remain oddities in Britain. Salsify looks rather like a poorly-grown parsnip – long, rather thin and slightly corky. The flavour, however, is much superior to the parsnip – a delicate taste which has been likened to both asparagus and oysters – hence the alternative name ‘oyster plant’. Its black-skinned relative is scorzonera, which has an ugly appearance and an awkward name but a delicious flavour.

Seed facts
Expected germination time: 12-16 days
Approximate number per ounce: 2000
Expected yield from a 10ft row: 4lb (2kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 2 years.
Approximate time between sowing and lifting: 25 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Easy – but careful weeding is necessary.

Soil facts
· These vegetables grow best in deep, friable and stone-free soil which has nor been recently manured.
· Dig deeply in autumn or early winter and refrain from adding any fresh manure or compost. Lime if necessary. Break down clods and rake in Growmore fertilizer when preparing the seedbed.

Seed Sowing
Dig drills ½ in (1cm) deep and plant groups of 3 seeds 6in (15cm) apart and cover with soil. Thin seedlings to leave 1 plant. Rows should be 12in (30cm) apart.

Calendar
Sowing time: Late April; can extend from the beginning of April to mid May.
Lifting time: Mid October to mid February; can extend to the end of April.

Looking after the crop
· Salsify and scorzonera will not produce satisfactory roots after transplanting, so throw thinnings away.
· Weed carefully around each plant. If using a hoe, avoid at all costs touching the crown of the plant.
· The crop requires very little attention and is rarely attacked by pests. Water in dry weather and apply a mulch in summer.

Harvesting
· The roots are ready for lifting from mid October onwards. They are hardy and can be left in the soil until April. Lift as required, taking great care not to snap the brittle, foot-long roots. You will not be able to harvest them in frosty weather, so lift some in November and store as for carrots.
· Some books recommend that the tops should be cut off some of the roots in autumn and the fresh shoots which appear in spring used as greens in May. This is not really advisable – these vegetables produce superior-tasting roots but only average-flavoured leaves.

Varieties
There are only 2 or 3 varieties and there are no particular merits to help you make your choice. Just buy the one you are offered.
Mammoth-Sandwich Island: Some suppliers call it Mammoth – in other catalogues it is listed as Sandwich Island. This variety of salsify has been around since the beginning of last century.
Giant: The only other variety you are likely to find – just as reliable as Mammoth-Sandwich Island.
Russian Giant: By far the most popular variety of scorzonera – you might be offered Long Black instead but there is little to choose between them.

Troubles
White Blister.


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