Rutabagas–also known as swedes, yellow turnips, Russian turnips, or Canadian turnips–are a cross between turnips and cabbages. They are a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and they’re easy to grow. Due to their large size, you only have to grow a few to get a lot of return on your time and effort!
Ideal growing conditions
Rutabagas are cool season plants; that is, you’ll want to time them so that their roots mature during the cool season, for the best flavour. They like light, well-drained soil that is rich in compost and manure and has a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. They do not grow well in heavy soil, or soil that is deficit in boron.
Direct sow the seeds in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Place seeds 1/2 inch deep, and about 3 inches apart. As the plants grow, thin them so that they are about a foot apart. If the roots that you thin out aren’t big enough to eat, you can still eat the greens.
Harvesting, using, and preserving
You can harvest the greens throughout the growing season, but just remove a couple of leaves at a time, and let the plant recover between pickings. Use the greens as you would kale.
You can begin to harvest the roots when they reach the size of a grapefruit, and continue to harvest them throughout the season. They can stay in the ground after a killing frost (frost sweetens their taste). To harvest them, pull them by the tops, or use a gardening fork to ease them out of the ground.
Rutabaga is delicious in soups and stews, or mashed. My personal favourite is to mash them with carrots and a bit of butter (chop and cook carrots separately from cubed rutabaga; rutabaga takes much longer to cook than carrots).
Rutabaga can be cubed, blanched, and frozen, although it’s more commonly stored in a root cellar or a similar location that is around 0 degrees with some humidity. Chop or twist the top off to about an inch long before storing.
You can keep your rutabagas in the ground for as long as your climate permits, although overwintering them makes them tough and woody. In the grocery store, rutabagas are sold coated in paraffin wax.
- Turnips and rutabagas were the first jack o’lanterns.
- Those delicious candied fruits that are used in fruitcakes and other festive cakes and cookies are actually candied rutabaga!