This is the first installment in a series about my experiences growing Asian vegetables. You can find the other articles by clicking on the tag “Growing Asian Vegetables” at the bottom of this post.
My first encounter with tatsoi came at a Kauai farmer’s market in 2008, when my wife and I were in Hawaii on our honeymoon. We were staying at a condo with a full kitchen and eating many of our meals there, so we traveled to the popular farmer’s market at Hanalei to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. One grower had bags of organically grown tatsoi that looked appealing, so we bought some. We cooked it for a side dish by sautéing it briefly with a little garlic and mushrooms, and loved it.
When we got home from the trip, I had to find out more about this little green bit of tastiness that looked like spinach and tasted like, well, nothing I’d ever tasted before. I ordered some seed, and I’ve been growing tatsoi ever since. You might say that encounter with tatsoi opened up a whole new world of vegetables to me. I had grown Chinese cabbage, pak choi and yard long beans before, but that was the limit of my experience when it came to Oriental vegetables.
Tatsoi (or Tah Tsai) is a cold hardy, easy to grow member of the mustard family with dark green, spoon shaped leaves. The whole plant grows in a compact rosette form about 6 inches wide that hugs the ground in cold weather. In warmer weather, and with some varieties, the plant may be more upright. In general, tatsoi is a cool weather loving crop, and often survives the winter in a cold frame here in zone 6.
Tatsoi is more flavorful than its close relative pak choi, but still mild to my taste buds. The young leaves are good raw in salads, and it is a popular ingredient in commercial baby salad mixes where its dark green leaves contrast nicely with the lighter colors of lettuces. The older leaves can be used in soups, stir-fried, sautéed or wilted. The whole plant can be chopped up for use at any stage, even after it has started to bolt and form flowers. Leaves will regrow after a partial cutting if the growing point is left intact, which makes it useful in cut and come again mixes.
The traditional time to sow tatsoi is in autumn. Early spring plantings are apt to bolt prematurely if left to grow to full size. Tatsoi is fairly fast growing. Young plants may be harvested in three to four weeks after planting, while full grown plants are usually ready in less than two months. In areas with mild summers it can be sown from spring through fall, but it really doesn’t do that well with our hot and humid summers. Tatsoi is not picky about soil types, but does appreciate a nice fertile soil with some added nitrogen. Flea beetles and slugs are occasional pests.
In addition to the standard tatsoi, Yukina Savoy is a variety that is larger (10-12” tall) and has more upright growth. It is tolerant of both hot and cold weather. And Kitazawa seeds has a Tatsoi Savoy listed that is similar to Yukina Savoy.
I’m so glad I discovered Tatsoi. That chance encounter a few years back has led me to experiment with growing a lot of different Asian vegetables. And that in turn has introduced me to a whole new world of tastes and growing experiences. I’ll be back soon with another installment highlighting a different Asian vegetable. Happy growing!
I have to grow more asian greens. I only grew mustard greens last year. And this year, I’m growing asian squashes. Being of Asian descent, we ate a LOT of asian vegetables. One of my favorites is chinese spinach, and chinese turnip. Oh and japanese / chinese eggplant. Yum!
I didn’t eat many Asian veggies earlier in life, so I guess I’m making up for lost time now!
I’ve been admiring your tatsoi – it’s such a unique and beautiful green. I’m glad you shared more info about it. Now I’m inspried to try growing it here next winter.
Jane, I think the Yukina Savoy would do well for you in your winter. It doesn’t seem to mind the warm weather so much here.
I purchased some Tatsoi seeds to grow for the first time this year. I’m happy that you posted about this veggie since I have yet to sow it!!
I hope you all like it as much as we do. We had some this week, the last of the overwintered plants.
Sounds like an excellent all around green, I saw some tatsoi seed at our local “farm and feed and seed” store and will have to pick some up and give it a go. Speaking of Oriental greens, my red choi is up and looking good in the greenhouse. I can’t wait to get it planted in the garden and grown big enough to try in a salad.:)
It shouldn’t take long for that red choi to grow. I’ve been known to ‘steal’ some of the leaves before it’s even planted!
I love tatsoi too. My favorite way of eating it is in soup. I boil some chicken broth. Add a bit of soy sauce. I put the tatsoi leaves in the soup bowl and pour it over. The hot broth cooks the leaves just enough. It is such a fast and easy way to cook it too.
I’m also constantly trying new Asian greens. This might be the first year that I’m not trying some new one. I usually do. I think I grow so many of them that I have no more room unless I toss out an old favorite.
I sometimes add it to soup right before I serve it, letting the heat of the broth wilt the tatsoi.
I’m going to use a little area behind the greenhouse for growing Asian greens this spring and summer. It gets morning sun and afternoon shade, so I think it might help things make it through the heat.
I’m so glad you’re doing this series. I’ve been curious about growing Asian vegetables. You’re answering the questions I had. Thanks!
Kaytee, I hope you get something out of these posts on the Asian veggies I’m growing. I’ll be doing them throughout the year.
We grew Tatsoi here for the first time last spring. It did great! We planted more in the fall, and a winter crop too. The crop that sat through the frost did start to bolt as soon as the weather warmed in January, but I love how easy it is to grow. Germination is reliable, growth is fast, the flavor is fabulous, and it’s just so gosh darned versatile in the kitchen. What’s not to love?
I’m trying a new Chrysanthemum green ( Shungiku ) this year and had plans to grow even more than in the past but so many of the seeds are F1 and it’s discouraging. Do you have a source for any open-pollinated varieties that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Do you find a preponderance of flea beetles on your Asian greens or are you interplanting? Those flea beetles have been the issue here and this year I thought I’d try using Remay cloth and more eggshells than in the past. Any suggestions that are organic?
Looking forward to more on this series! There is so very little written and I’m sure your posts will help and encourage many gardeners.
We’ve been lucky and the flea beetles have not really been an issue (yet) with any of the Asian greens. I use neem oil to keep the flea beetles in check on my eggplant, which seems to work. I think row covers would be the best bet if the beetles are bad.
As for seed sources, Fedco has a few OP varieties, but Kitazawa Seed has the best selection I have found, both hybrid and open pollinated.
Well lucky me that you posted this now- I’ve been wanting to try Tatsoi and I think this will be the year. I may wait until fall, but we’ll see. We are having an unusually cold spring so I may throw a few seeds under my tunnels!
I say go for it with that tatsoi!
I just started some tatsoi and other Asian greens in the hoophouse, hoping for one harvest before it gets too hot. I hope it works, as the rest of the garden is still under snow cover.
Thinking about growing Tatsoi this year and came across this article. Elsewhere I have seen some comments that the leaves do not regrow very well after picking. So I am interested in your comment , “Leaves will regrow after a partial cutting if the growing point is left intact” I think I know what you mean but would you mind giving more detail on what exactly this means.
If you pick the outer leaves of tatsoi, it will continue to put on new growth from the center of the plant if growing conditions are favorable (well-watered, not too hot, etc). If you cut all the leaves from the plant, but leave the center growing point intact, it will regrow leaves, though not as vigorously as it did the first time. Regardless of how you cut it, spring planted tatsoi will bolt to flower fairly quickly in late spring. Fall planted tatsoi is more likely to regrow after cutting, since it is less likely to flower.
Does that explain it better? Yukina Savoy is still my favorite tatsoi relative, and it does well in spring and fall.
Awesome blog. I planted Mizuna (Kyoto) this year and was searching for information on whether it was an annual and if so when it would go to seed. Happy to know I can maybe enjoy this plant all winter until spring.
Then of course had to read all your other asian greens posts. Planted Tatsoi last year, saved the seeds, but didn’t plant them until late this year (I’m in zone 5 so we’ll see). The tatsoi was the only thing still flowering last fall when everything else was done which was great because its yellow flowers were sure cheerful and my honeybees were all over it.
I’m gonna have to bookmark your blog. 🙂
Thanks Anna. The Asian greens are so easy to grow and productive. I hope the Mizuna does well for you!
Thank you for the good information. I was particularly interested in the part where you said you can harvest the entire plant even after it has “bolted”. Does this mean the pretty yellow flowers are edible also? Have you ever eaten them? Please send an answer to my husband’s email? Thank you so much, Renee.
Yes, the flowers of tatsoi are edible!