Rutabagas are a sweet tasting cool season crop that is similar in appearance to turnips, but have a waxy blue-green color. This plant is related to turnips and cabbage and produces a baseball sized root that is quite flavorful and is often added to soups and stews. The rutabaga root is larger than the turnip and has a bright purple top and creamy white color on the bottom. While the flesh of the turnip is white in color, that of the rutabaga is yellow.
Rutabagas are also known as “Swedes,” “neeps” and “yellow turnips.” The rutabaga needs soil sufficient in nutrients to produce a high yield. This vegetable crop likes light soil that is light and airy. Rutabagas are a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. The first known mention of the rutabaga was by Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin in 1620. Rutabagas are thought to have originated in Russia or Scandinavia.
The rutabaga likes fertile soil and lots of sunlight. Rutabagas do quite well in the northern areas of the U.S. Select an area of your garden that will get at least six hours of sunlight each day. Rutabagas are best grown in beds four feet wide or in a raised bed. Add a three inch layer of dried manure or compost to the growing area and turn the soil to a depth of about 18″. Seeds germinate in 3-7 days and can be planted in early to mid-summer.
Rutabagas have small black seeds. Plant the seeds ½” deep and 2″ apart. Seeds can be started indoors and transplanted into the garden after the date of the last killing frost of spring. When the seedlings are about 6″ tall, thin the plants to allow about 10″ between each. Keep the soil around the plants moist but not wet. Excessive and irregular watering can cause the roots to crack. Rutabagas can tolerate cool weather and can survive well into the cooler days of winter. Cold weather and light frost tend to make rutabagas have a sweeter flavor.
The rutabaga roots can be harvested in 50 – 75 days. By that time, they should be about 3″-5″ in diameter and the tops of the roots should have a blue-green color. The leaves of the rutabaga can be cooked and added to soups, salads or stews. To harvest, loosen the soil around the plant with a garden fork and gently remove the root from ground.
Rutabagas can be stored unwashed in a cool dry basement or cellar for up to four months, or left in the ground and protected with a three inch layer of straw mulch. They can also be cut into 1″ cubes, put into freezer bags and frozen. This vegetable can be roasted, sautéed, pureed or pickled. Some cooks use rutabagas as a substitute or complement for potatoes and boil then mash them so that have the consistency of mashed potatoes. Rutabagas are low in calories and high in fiber. They contain Vitamins A, B, C, E and K. This food crop contains many minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and iron.