Rutabagas, or swedes, are in the mustard family and are a cross between turnips and cabbage. Since they grow well in cool weather and can be harvested well into winter, they tend to be popular in northern countries. Another name for them is Swedish Turnips or swedes.
- Leaves: Leaves are similar in appearance to turnips, but thicker, like a cabbage or kale leaf.
- Flowers: Rutabagas have the typical small, yellow Brassica flower, with 4 petals that form a cross and give them their designation as cruciferous vegetables.
Common Name:Rutabagas, Swedes, Yellow turnips
When to Harvest:
Rutabagas are sweetened by a little frost. You can dig them in the fall (or late winter in warmer climates) or you can leave them in the ground with a thick layer of straw mulch and harvest as needed. They should be about 3 - 5 inches in diameter. Larger bulbs tend to get tough.
- Altasweet - Mild, less peppery flavor. (90 - 100 days)
- American Purple Top Popularly grown variety with large bulbs. (90 - 100 days)
- Laurentian - Very uniform, sweet bulbs. Heirloom (90 - 120 days)
- Pike - Similar to ‛Laurentian', but a little hardier. (100 - 120 days )
Rutabagas are crunch and juicy raw. Slice, cube or grate then into all kinds of dishes and snacks. I like to grate them into my cole slaw, along with cabbage, for a more complex flavor.
The bulbs can be stored in the refrigerator or any cool, dark place for months. Remove the leaves before storing.
Soil: Rutabagas prefer a slightly acidic soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Good soil fertility will help them grow throughout their long season and make sure the soil is well-draining, so the bulbs don't rot.
Planting:Rutabagas are direct seeded in the late spring, after danger of frost, so that they will mature in the fall. In warm climates, they are usually seeded in the fall and grown over winter. They will not sweeten if they mature during hot weather. Plant seeds about ½ inch deep.
Plants will need to be thinned when they are about 3 - 4 inches tall, so the bulbs will have room to fill out. You can toss the thinned greens into a salad or stir fry.
Maintenance:At least an inch of water per week is vital for good root development, more during particularly hot, dry weather. Rutabagas that grow in dry conditions are prone to cracking and won't develop their sweetness.
Pests & Problems:Diseases: Rutabagas are less bothered by pests than most Brassica plants, but you should still rotate your growing areas. The main disease that ruins crops is clubroot. If your plants get clubroot, it is recommended you wait 6 years to grow any Brassica in that area.
Insects: There are several insects, such as flea beetles, that will chew on and damage the leaves. If you plan to use the greens, a row cover will protect them.
Root maggots cause more of a problem because they damage the bulbs. The row covers will help with these, as well, by preventing the moths from laying their eggs on the leaves.