Black salsify is also called winter asparagus. But this comparison lags a little. It’s almost like comparing apples to oranges and is bound to lead to misconceptions – and disappointment – among asparagus lovers. The elongated roots with the rough black skin offer a more down-to-earth pleasure. But it is worth rediscovering the almost forgotten root vegetable on the menu because of the delicate almond aroma, and it can also be harvested throughout the winter. Not many types of vegetables can claim that.
Table of Contents
- botanischer Name: Scorzonera hispanica
- belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae)
- other names: winter asparagus, scorzoner root, Spanish salsify, black salsify, skorzener root
- Growth height: up to 120 centimeters
- perennial herbaceous plant
- lanceolate leaves protruding from a point
- Root vegetables: black-skinned, edible root (2-3 cm wide, up to 30 cm long)
- annual or biennial culture
species and origin
More than 300 years ago, salsify, as a popular winter vegetable, pushed the oat roots used up to then from the fields. Black salsify belongs to the daisy family and is originally native to Spain. In nature, about 100 different species are known, mainly in Europe and Asia, of which the black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica) as a vegetable plant is probably the best known. Black salsify is actually a biennial, herbaceous plant, but it is usually cultivated as an annual.
Other cultivated plants are commercially available as seeds in countless variations and breeds. This is not the case with salsify. Although some varieties of Scorzonera hispanica are known, most dealers only have one variety of seed on offer.
- Hoffmann’s Black Pfahl: most common variety, has proven itself well
- Meres: New breed, resistant to powdery mildew
- Russian giants: old variety with big roots
- Non-shooting giants: improved variant of the Russian giants, less sensitive to frost, can be sown a little earlier
- Schwarzer Peter: old variety, also suitable for heavy soils
- Duplex: very fast-growing variety (needs a little more planting distance)
Black salsify grows best in deep, humus-rich soil that contains as few stones or old roots as possible. Very light sandy soil is just as unsuitable as heavy clay. Scorzonera species are very slow growers, so it is unfavorable to grow them in areas with a short growing season (late spring and early autumn). Loose, deep soil is essential for the formation of long, straight roots that do not branch out. Black salsify can grow up to 35 centimeters deep. However, this is only possible if you do not find any obstacles such as stones, other roots or soil that is too solid.
- Light requirement: sunny
- deep, humus-rich soil
As with all types of vegetables, it also plays a role with black salsify which culture was on the bed last year. Most vegetable plants not only extract nutrients from the soil unilaterally, but also release a wide variety of substances into the soil. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage for a subsequent crop. Potatoes are the ideal preculture for salsify. Deep-rooting green manures (such as lupins) also prepare the soil well for cultivation. Caution is advised when using cabbage or sweetcorn in the previous year. Although the roots of the salsify still grow well, they form many lateral runners, making processing (cleaning) more difficult.
Do not plant after:
Radishes, beets or lettuce can be grown between the individual rows if they are laid out a little more generously (35 centimetres).
Preparation of the ground
Before sowing black salsify, the soil should be dug about two sods deep and loosened. Root vegetables can also be sown on ridges like asparagus, but regular watering is important in this case.
- Bed preparation: already in autumn
- Dig up the soil 40 centimeters deep
- incorporate crumbly, mature compost
- in wet or compacted soil: hill bed
- Loosen the soil again before sowing
Black salsify is sown directly outdoors. The seeds can be planted between February and May. You can only get really long and strong roots if you sow them very early. Outdoor sowing is always a bit tricky, because if you sow too early, the young plants can still get frost. In these cases, the plant begins to shoot. This is very unfavorable for the harvest, as the black salsify then forms flowering shoots and no longer puts any energy into the root. However, if you sow too late, the roots will remain too thin.
- Time of sowing: frost-free day in February to April
- Plant row spacing: 25-40 centimeters
- Planting depth: 2 centimeters
- Seed spacing in the row: 3 centimeters
- Caution: the rod-shaped seeds must not break
- Germination period: 10-12 days
As soon as the seedlings have developed several small leaves, they are carefully moved in the rows to the right and left, so that the individual black salsify is planted about 10 centimeters apart in a row. In addition to regular watering, weeding is also important. The weeds between the plants grow much faster than the salsify and then not only take away the light, but also the space.
The older cultivation method involves sowing the vegetables in August to September. The black salsify then blooms more luxuriantly and is also not as tender as with annual cultivation. However, there is no problem with the timing of sowing. The harvest takes place in the autumn of the following year.
watering and fertilizing
In the following months, continuous hoeing of weeds and watering on dry days is necessary so that the black salsify can develop well. If the vegetables don’t get enough water, root formation will falter. When watering, it is better to only water a lot once a week so that the soil is well moistened down to the deep layers.
The plants are not fertilized during cultivation. This would lead to undesired branching of the root. Also when sowing, no fertilizer or fresh compost should be worked under the ground. If you plan to grow salsify in the garden, it is best to add compost or other organic fertilizer to the garden soil in the autumn of the previous year so that it can rot over the winter. Humus or light fertilization is only welcome if the garden soil is very poor or sandy. Compost or organic ready-made fertilizer such as horn shavings are suitable here. The plants do not tolerate fresh manure well. If the nitrogen content is too high, the roots become spongy.
The black salsify harvest begins in October as soon as the foliage begins to wither. Now the roots are thick enough to process. As long as the ground is frost-free, it can be harvested throughout the winter. Even in spring, when salsify begins to bloom, the root is still edible. However, the quality and taste then decrease significantly. Even severe January frosts do not bother the robust black salsify. Only harvesting is difficult when the ground is frozen. That is why a thick layer of straw or leaves on the bed prevents supplies from being cut off. If you have a cold frame in your garden, you can also put the roots there.
As with asparagus, you have to be very careful when harvesting black salsify, because the roots break quickly. Simply pulling them out by the tuft (like carrots) will only result in ripping them off. In the case of loamy soil, you have to open them up with a spade to get them out of the ground. To do this, dig a deep ditch next to the row (v-shaped) and push the black salsifies out in this direction. In the case of sandy soil, loosen the soil with the digging fork or use a special spade fork before pulling it out.
If the weather is frost-free, black salsify can remain outdoors without any problems until well into the winter. However, if voles are out or cover is not possible, it is better to harvest them. They are best stored in a wooden box in a cool basement or garage covered with damp sand. Wrapped in damp newspaper, salsify will keep in the fridge for a few days. Black salsify will dry out very quickly without a moist coat.
At the end of the harvest season, a few roots should always be left in the ground to collect seeds. Plants that are cultivated biennially, i.e. sown in late summer of the previous year, bloom particularly lavishly. The following year, sunny yellow flowers appear on the plant in June/July, which smell wonderfully of vanilla and sit on long flower stalks. In the coming weeks, the long, umbrella-shaped seeds will develop. The flowers resemble dandelion in appearance. If you wait too long, the seeds will start their journey with the wind. The seeds do not remain germinable for long, so they should be sown no later than next spring.
Black salsify is hardy and survives severe frosts without losing quality. However, to ensure that the ground remains frost-free (and therefore easily accessible) for harvesting, it should be covered with a thick layer of straw, brushwood or leaves.
diseases and pests
The black salsify is one of the robust types of vegetables and is therefore not very sensitive to diseases. The most common diseases that occur are caused by fungi:
Powdery mildew: The fungus causes a lot of damage in our gardens. It can be recognized by the white coating on the top (sometimes underside) of the leaf, on buds or young shoots. The plant tissue turns brown and dies. If powdery mildew has occurred frequently in the garden in the past, you can always keep the soil slightly moist to prevent it and switch to varieties that are less sensitive to powdery mildew. Watering should only be done in the morning hours so that the plants can dry well before dark.
White rust (downy mildew fungus): Yellowish spots with white pustules on the leaves indicate an infestation by the Phoma fungus. The result is blunt, short roots with thick bark.
In winter, voles can destroy the entire population. Only protection against voles or early harvesting and storage in a sheltered place can help.
Black salsify is one of the few types of vegetables that are completely frost hardy and can therefore be harvested outdoors throughout the winter. They are very easy to cultivate and only require even soil moisture during dry periods during the growing season. The only problem is the timing of sowing. Since black salsify grows quite slowly, it should be sown outdoors as soon as possible after the last frosts. However, the young plants tend to shoot during late frosts. They then form flowers instead of long roots.