This fascinating cousin of mustard is tatsoi, also known as tat choy, which are more commonly found in U.S. farmers’ markets. It’s called Chinese flat cabbage or spinach mustard.
The plant has its origins in ancient China, where it grew along the Yangtze River but gained culinary popularity in feudal Japan. This exotic-sounding garden vegetable is more common than you may think- it’s often an ingredient in bagged baby salad greens.
If you have been looking for the ideal cold-weather garden crop, but the risk of early snowfall in your area means you may not get a harvest, brassica rapa subsp.
Narinosa might be the garden green you fall in love growing. It’s incredibly resistant to cold temperatures and is big enough to harvest in as little as three weeks.
What is Tatsoi?
As a Mustard family member that includes plants as varied as broccoli, turnips, and cabbage, tatsoi is an elegant edible garden green. The tatsoi plant is grown worldwide for its tasty and healthy spoon-shaped greens.
Tatsoi grows close to the ground in rosettes of emerald green foliage with creamy stalks. The tatsoi plant does not form heads, just like its cousin, bok choy. Tatsoi is shorter than many types of Asian garden greens but produces numerous broad leaves.
How to Grow it
Tatsoi is an excellent choice for cool weather gardens where it is beautiful and grows very well. In hotter climates, the plant tends to grow upright and create a circular and flat plant when temperatures remain cool.
Growing tatsoi in your garden is not as complicated as you might think. Even though it is an exotic green vegetable, it grows well in various conditions, provided that gardeners follow a few simple steps.
What is Tatsoi Used For?
Tatsoi is an ideal vegetable for stir fry dishes and sauteed with garlic and butter. Many Japanese and Chinese recipes use tatsoi and ginger on beef or noodles or are often eaten raw in garden salads. Its fast growth rate has become a popular ingredient in commercially-produced baby green salad mixes.
What Does it Taste Like?
The best way to describe tatsoi’s flavor is to say that it is most similar to tender baby bok choy leaves. It’s slightly sweeter, and the stalks have a cucumber-like pleasant bitterness. The flavor is more earthy and rich than many brassica varieties and has a mild mustard green taste.
Nutritional Value & Benefits
You may expect such a small plant that grows quickly to lack slower and larger cousins’ nutritional benefits. Still, tatsoi offers a potent combination of healthy nutrients. The leaves and stalks are high in Vitamins A and C, both known to boost your immune system and help fight off colds.
The tatsoi plant is rich in fiber, calcium, and beta carotene. It offers antioxidant properties that can help detoxify your digestive system.
When to Plant Tatsoi Seeds Indoors
Growing tatsoi from seed for your garden requires patience. You will want to start seeds at least four weeks before the last date of frost.
The best way to start seeds is in trays or biodegradable seed starting cups. You can transplant seedlings after the last frost, but you should avoid planting too soon. Seedlings that experience excessive cold early may quickly bolt.
When to Plant in Your Garden
Tatsoi is easy to direct-seed in your garden. You can start the seeds on the last day of frost in the spring or toward the end of summer for a second fall harvest. To sow seeds in your garden, make a shallow trough about one-quarter inch deep and loosely sprinkle the tiny seeds. Cover lightly with soil and moisten, but don’t flood. Seeds will germinate in about one week but may take several weeks to sprout fully.
These are broad plants, so you’ll want to thin to about 6 to 8 inches apart when plants start to the crowd. The young plants are perfect for a baby green salad and may even tolerate transplanting. Tatsoi bolts quickly in the spring, and many gardeners find fall harvests to be of better quality.
Spring and fall plantings are a great way to extend the harvest, and both seasons can benefit from staggered planting. Gardeners should plant tatsoi every three to five days for the first two weeks of the season to allow for a continuous harvest. In some regions, tatsoi will overwinter and begin growing in spring and may provide edible greens throughout the season.
– Soil Conditions
Like many brassica plants, tatsoi will grow in various soil types and conditions but prefers well-draining, nitrogen-rich soil that doesn’t compact easily. Tatsoi likes plenty of organic compost for the most vigorous growth. When grown as a row crop, you should make shallow furrows to either side of the plants to encourage drainage and healthy root growth.
– Light Conditions for Optimal Growth
Avoid planting tatsoi in bright, full sun locations. The plants will grow best in partial shade and cooler environments. Three to five hours of sun is sufficient for tatsoi plants to grow.
A common practice is to use row cover when growing tatsoi in full sun is unavoidable. Row cover can help to prevent early bolting and is useful for repelling flying pests.
These plants are relatively thirsty, particularly in hot regions where the soil dries quickly.
You should water tatsoi regularly and make sure the soil is kept moderately moist but not wet. Don’t let the soil dry out between waterings, either, because the plant will stress and shorten the harvest.
Like many of its cousin species you may already grow, watering should be done around the plants’ roots, not on the leaves. In humid climates, water on the leaves can be a recipe for diseases that can quickly kill tatsoi plants.
When to Harvest
Tatsoi is terrific for its fast growth rate. You can have tatsoi ready for harvest in as little as three weeks, unlike bok choy that takes five to ten weeks to harvest. For plantings in early spring, harvest before the summer heat causes bolting. Late summer plantings can often be harvested well into winter in many regions and even into spring the following year occasionally.
– How to Harvest
Since tatsoi is a non-heading species, you can harvest the leaves individually. You can also cut the plant off a few inches above the ground, and it may regrow for a second harvest.
Once tatsoi plants begin to bolt, the leaves will become more bitter and will be less tender. The good news is that the flower bud springing from your tatsoi plant is edible and a tasty treat in the garden.
Once you harvest tatsoi, it must be stored properly, or it will quickly wilt. The best way to store small harvests is to rinse clean with cold water and place them in layers of paper towels. Keep the leaves in the refrigerator, and they will stay fresh for up to one week.
Alternatively, you can store fresh-cut tatsoi leaves upright in a glass of water. The leaves will stay fresh for three to five days, but you must change the water daily.
– Propagating Tatsoi
In most regions, tatsoi will be harvested entirely before seeds form. It means that next year’s planting will require new seeds, which always introduces the risk of cross-contamination. You can let one of your tatsoi plants bolts, go to seed, and then harvest seeds for the next season. Tatsoi plants will cross-breed with other brassica varieties, so your seeds may not be true to the parent plant.
To collect seeds from your tatsoi plant, you should let the plant bolt and flower. Once you see some of the flower bulbs turning brown, clip off the flower stalk, harvest the seeds, suspend the stalk upside down in a bag, and place it in a cool area. Gently shake the stalk to loosen seeds every day until you have collected all the seeds you desire.
A neat trick to keep your tatsoi growing when the weather is against you is to use a cutting to propagate the plant. Cut out the core stem and place it in a glass of water in a cool place. The core will root and continue to grow. Gardeners can use this method to start fall plants and get a one-week advantage over starting with the seed at the end of summer.
Where to Buy Tatsoi Seeds
Even though tatsoi is popular in baby green mixes and is grown worldwide, it’s still a rare find in garden centers and even grocery stores. The best way to start growing your tatsoi is by purchasing seeds from a reputable seller online. Untreated seeds may carry bacterial and fungal pathogens. In contrast, treated seeds cannot be grown in an organic garden in most circumstances.
Many seed companies offer their varieties of tatsoi.
Some common types include koji tatsoi, a hybrid variety with a bunching growth that tolerates heat well, and red cloud tatsoi that develops dark reddish-purple leaves. You can have fun by planting several different types to get a beautiful edible garden.
Pests that Ruin Tatsoi Crops
Tatsoi is susceptible to many of the same pests that attack spinach, bok choy, and radishes. Gardeners should learn to recognize the signs of pests so they can quickly prevent damage.
While many types of pests damage tatsoi, some of the most common are easily identifiable.
- Flea Beetle: This pest is a small black beetle that chews characteristic irregular holes in young plants’ leaves. Controlling a flea beetle infestation can be a challenge. Using a light dusting of diatomaceous earth or commercially available organic pesticides will kill flea beetles and similar pests.
- Cabbage Looper: You should learn to spot the attractive white butterfly that produces cabbage looper caterpillars and find ways to keep them off your tatsoi. Cabbage loopers chew through the leaves and stalks of tatsoi and can quickly kill entire plants.
Diatomaceous earth will kill the caterpillars, and row cover can prevent the butterflies from laying eggs.
Tatsoi is resistant to many of the most common diseases in the garden, provided certain conditions are maintained.
You can learn to spot the symptoms of disease in your garden and act quickly to prevent infestations.
- Clubroot: Clubroot is a fungal disease that infects all brassica species. The plant will develop thick, club-like roots and show poor nutrition, including wilting leaves. Clubroot fungus lives in the soil, so you must treat the soil to eradicate this disease.
- Blackleg: This is a bacterial disease that infects seeds. It’s challenging to get rid of, as it can live in seed for four years and in the soil for three years. Gardeners will notice brown and black lesions on the stems and stalks of plants. Plants must be destroyed if infected, and the soil should be treated.
- Tatsoi is an ancient green that originates in China and is popular in Japan.
- Even though it seems exotic, tatsoi is frequently found in baby green salad mixes.
- Tatsoi tastes like bok choy but is more tender.
- Its fast-growing characteristics and cold-tolerance make it popular in many regions of the U.S.
- Tatsoi is eaten raw or sauteed.
- The leaves and stems are a good source of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants.
- Tatsoi seeds can be started indoors 4-5 weeks before the last frost or direct-sown in the garden when the last frost has passed.
- Seeds take about one week to germinate, and plants can be harvested in as little as 3 weeks.
- Tatsoi grows best in fertile well-draining soil with partial shade and regular watering.
- Gardeners can harvest seeds or purchase many exciting varieties of seeds online.
- Common pests are flea beetles and cabbage loopers.
- Diseases that impact tatsoi include clubroot and black foot diseases.
The incredible resistance to cold temperatures makes tatsoi an excellent choice for anyone gardening in regions with a short growing season.
One of the best uses for tatsoi is to harvest the seedlings, commonly called microgreens, and add them to a fresh salad. The young greens add a delicious flavor and texture, and it’s fantastic to know that you will have lots of tatsoi growing well into winter.
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