Image courtesy pin add on Wikimedia Commons and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Rutabaga is a root vegetable that is believed to have originated as a cross between cabbage and turnip. It is known by other names in different parts of the world: Rotabagge, Swede, Maip, Rwden, Swedsen, Erfin, Swejen, Snadgers, Neep, Yellow turnips etc. Both roots and leaves of the rutabaga plants are edible. The roots are prepared in a variety of ways – mashed, roasted and pureed. Rutabagas are a good source of vitamin C, sugar, dietary fiber, and some minerals.
Rutabaga is often confused with turnips. Though they are similar root vegetables, turnips are usually white or white and purple while rutabagas are usually yellowish and brown. Rutabagas stay tender at larger sizes (3-4 inch globes) and are slightly sweeter-tasting than turnips. Rutabagas in markets are usually coated with a layer of wax. The wax is applied when the rutabagas are harvested to keep them from losing moisture and drying out.
Plant Family: Rutabaga (Brassica napus variety napobrassica) is a member of the Brassicaceae family; other members include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, and collards. This group is commonly referred to as cole crops or crucifers. In crop rotation, this ‘root’ crop would follow members of the ‘fruit’ crop (e.g., tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, squash).
How to Grow: Rutabaga prefers cool weather and is best grown as a fall crop – sow seeds in full sun mid-summer (90-100 days to harvest). Alternatively, start your seeds indoors and transplant young seedlings to the garden. They develop large roots so need at least 6-8 inches of loose, well-drained, fertile soil. For improved root development, the soil can be enriched with potash (or sifted wood ashes) and phosphorus, otherwise, they may grow spindly instead of plump. Direct sow the seeds thinly in rows 12-16 inches apart and cover them with ¼ inch of soil. Once the seedlings emerge (7-14 days) and are about 2 inches tall, thin them to 6-8 inches apart. As with other root crops, it’s important to keep the weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so use a mulch to prevent the weed seeds from germinating. When weeding, avoid disturbing the soil around the plants. Keep the rutabaga well-watered during dry periods to promote rapid, uninterrupted growth. They like cool, moist soil and need about one to one and a half-inch of water/week during the growing season.
Container Friendly?: Yes, rutabaga can be grown in containers. Be sure to select a wide container that is at least 10-12 inches deep. Leave plenty of space for them to develop into 4-5 inch globes. Be sure to use a quality planting mix rather than garden soil.
Try This: Eat the greens! Rutabaga greens are similar to cabbage or collard greens in flavor and texture, and they are not as tangy as turnip greens. The young leaves are best raw, the older ones can be steamed or boiled.
How to Harvest: Rutabaga mature toward the end of fall. They can be harvested when the globes are 2-3 inches in diameter and will be very tender. The root size is easy to determine – the top tends to grow above the soil level. For optimal taste, wait until they are 4-5 inches round. They will be sweeter if they remain in the ground for the first few frosts. But be sure to harvest your rutabagas before the ground is frozen.
If you harvest the rutabaga after a rain, they should be easy to remove from the soil, assuring that the roots don’t get broken or torn. If harvesting when the soil is firm, use a garden fork to loosen the soil underneath the globe and pull gently. The globes should come to the surface readily.
Recipes: Rutabagas are excellent roasted, and are often used in soups and stews. They can also be served boiled, mashed, or in casseroles. A rutabaga puff is a tasty side dish casserole that can be part of many menu plans. Rutabaga is also an excellent addition to mashed potatoes. Other recipes can be found here: