Garden Fresh Rutabagas

October 4, 2006

Rutabagas are one of my favorite root vegetables and if you’ve never tasted or raised home grown rutabagas you’re in for a treat.

Many people are clueless about just how good rutabagas are, and I have to confess that I was one of them and missed out on enjoying this delicious vegetable in the kitchen as well as the garden for many years.

Delicious Organically Grown Rutabagas

Rutabagas are also referred to as Swedes or Yellow Turnips. Even if you haven’t tried them you’ve probably seen the large purple and yellow globes sitting on the shelves at your local grocer coated with a thick layer of paraffin-like wax.

I know that eating waxy produce doesn’t sound too appetizing, but if grown and dug fresh from the home garden there’ll be no need for waxes or chemicals as rutabagas are a cinch to grow organically.

Rutabagas are very similar to turnips but the roots, which are the edible part of the plant that is raised for food, grow much larger and have a sweeter, milder flavor than turnips. While the leaves are edible, they are not commonly eaten.

Like turnips, rutabagas are a cool weather vegetable but they require a longer growing season and should be planted earlier than other fall crops.

Growing Your Own Rutabagas

The rutabaga seeds are small and look just like cabbage, kale, or other Cole family crops. Sow the seeds thinly about half an inch deep and gradually thin the seedlings as they are growing to allow about eight inches between the plants.

Keep the rutabaga plants watered and weeded and you’ll discover that this root vegetable is relatively care free to maintain. I’ve never seen this crop troubled by disease or insect infestations.

One problem that I have encountered when growing rutabagas has been an occasional season when the plants produced healthy leaf growth but failed to develop harvestable roots. It wasn’t obvious to me whether this was due to soil fertility issues, the plants being overcrowded, or the timing of the planting of the seeds.

My guess is that the problem was the result of poor timing when I planted the seeds. They weren’t planted early enough and just didn’t have enough time to form edible sized roots. Rutabagas don’t grow or mature as rapidly as turnips, so make sure that you give them plenty of time to mature.

Harvesting and Cooking Home Grown Rutabagas

There are different varieties of rutabagas but they are all pretty similar to one another. Popular rutabaga varieties include: American Purple Top Yellow, Laurentian, Acme Purple Top, Best of All, Joan, and Marian.

Rutabagas are easier to harvest than most root crops because the roots grow on top of the soil and can be harvested by lifting rather than digging the roots. Harvest the rutabaga roots in the fall after they reach the size that you prefer. If well grown rutabagas are capable of reaching enormous sizes in the garden bed.

The simplest way to cook rutabagas is to carefully cut the roots into cubes and boil or steam them in a small amount of water until they are tender. They can be roasted or prepared just as you would cook turnips. Fresh rutabagas are also delicious when combined with other root crops such as carrots, turnips, salsify, and parsnips.

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