Whether you're planning your garden for next spring or got a late start this year, be sure to consider adding Tatsoi mustard to your lineup.
Tatsoi mustard (Brassica rapa narinosa) ranks high among chefs as a versatile vegetable, adding satisfying, spinach-like texture to salads and a rich, sweet and spicy garnish for soups. Tatsoi is often included in mesclun baby greens mixes and serves as a nutrient-boosting substitute for bok choy and pak choi in stir fried dishes.
The compact, round leaves of this cool-season tender annual, arranged around an open-heart rosette, are visually appealing in the garden. The leafy, emerald-colored greens are nutritionally dense. High in calcium and beta carotene, and packed with vitamins A and C, Tatsoi mustard is as healthy as it is delicious, bringing more flavor and health to the table than look-alikes pak choi and bok choi.
Tatsoi mustard is indigenous to China, where it's been known as Tah Tsai in the 1500 years its been in cultivation. It's more closely related to turnips than to true mustards, though its flavor mirrors mustard greens from the Brassica junceafamily.
Also known to culinary buffs as spinach mustard, rosette pak choy and spoon mustard, Tatsoi mustard matures in 45-55 days and mature plants can withstand short but cold frosts. You don't have to wait for two months to enjoy Tatsoi—Harvest greens at any stage for salad mixes and sautees, or let the plants grow to full size to use the delicious, creamy center stalks as you would use celery.
Tatsoi leaves look a lot like baby spinach. Both are similar in thickness, texture, and color but look closely: Tatsoi veins and stems are white, while spinach is green throughout.
Sowing Tatsoi mustard seed
Plant Tatsoi about five weeks prior to last frost in the spring and four to six weeks prior to first frost in the fall.
Select a location with loose, loamy, compost-enriched, well-draining soil where your plants will receive at least five hours of full sun. Tatsoi does well between 6.0 to 7.5 pH but thrives best in the sweet spot between 6.5 and 7.0 pH.
Plant Tatsoi mustard seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart three weeks before your last frost date. Mature Tatsoi mustard grows 8 to 12 inches both tall and wide, so thin your seedlings according to how you plan to enjoy the greens. Remember, greens are delicious at every stage!
Tatsoi mustard does well in double rows. Companion plants include parsley, spinach, other brassicas and lettuces (especially as a mesclun mix), and even pansies.
As Your Tatsoi Mustards Grow...
Tatsoi mustard requires frequent watering to maintain healthy growth, especially as the weather warms. It's essential to keep roots moist, but not water-logged. Try using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to prevent leaf damage. Once your plants are about two weeks old, apply an all-purpose fertilizer around the base of plants to help keep them healthy. Protect roots from spikes in your cool season with a layer of mulch, which will also keep root moisture consistent, help keep low-lying leaves out of the soil and help reduce weeds.
Once your plants are about two or three weeks old, apply an all-purpose fertilizer around the base of plants to help keep them healthy and resilient.
It doesn't hurt to check your Tatsoi plants for pests and diseases as you admire your garden. Nor does it hurt to pick a few leaves as an instant reward.
Extending your season
Jump-start your spring Tatsoi crop by a couple weeks by starting seedlings indoors. This boost will allow you to harvest more plants before summer's heat sets in. Tatsoi mustard bolts in summer heat and warmer temperatures encourage looser leaf bunches.
Fall Tatsoi plantings do very well in cold frames and low tunnels as long as the soil temperatures don't drop too far below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Experiment with floating row covers if you want to push the envelope; Tatsoi's tender yet thick leaves and flavor have been known to hold up even when harvested from under several inches of snow!
Protect from pests and disease
As with most brassicas, Tatsoi mustard is resistant to disease but vulnerable to insect pests. Row covers will help guard against flea beetles and cabbage worms. Set out saucers of beer in between rows to trap slugs, which love to nibble on Tatsoi's low-growing leaves.
Cool season brassicas, which do attract pests, tend to fare better as fall crops. More mature plants handle surprise cold snaps, and fewer pests are around late in the season to wreak havoc on your garden.
Harvesting your Tatsoi mustard
You already know that Tatsoi mustard greens are useful at any stage of growth. If you've planted in succession, about every two weeks, you'll have the chance to enjoy Tatsoi in all its glory.
In addition to picking individual leaves for a treat here and there, or baby greens as soon as they can fit on a fork, you can cut the base of a Tatsoi plant about an inch from ground level and enjoy regrowth of a smaller plant as long as the weather continues to cooperate.
As with most greens, they'll only keep a few days wrapped in a damp paper towel in a refrigerator. If you need the garden space, try uprooting the entire plant and placing the roots in a heavy bowl filled with water. Set the attractive plant out as an edible display; the bright green leaves are splayed out in a similar fashion to African violets but without the fuzz...or the fuss.