Rutabaga, also called swedes when the flesh is white, are ancient heirloom vegetables that are particularly well suited to climates where winters are cold and moist.
Key Rutabaga facts
Name – Brassica napobrassica
Family – brassicas
Type – vegetable
Height – 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – humus-rich, well-drained
Harvest – 3 to 4 months after sowing, from October to March.
From sowing to harvesting, caring and preserving, every step is important and helps produce quality rutabaga.
Sowing and planting rutabaga
- Rutabaga can cope with freezing, on the condition that the soil drain very well.
- Prefer full sun.
- Avoid excessively dry soil, and prefer moist soil.
- Rutabaga love humus-rich soils.
- Mulch if needed to retain moisture.
Cover the rutabaga seeds with ½ inch (1 to 2 cm) soil.
- When planting them in their growing bed, space rows 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) apart.
- Within a row, replant at 12 inch (30 cm) intervals.
- Water in a light drizzle to ensure that the ground stays moist.
- Sprouting should occur after ten days.
Caring for rutabaga
Once properly settled in, caring for rutabaga is quite straightforward, because this plant doesn’t require much attention.
Basic supervision is enough and the rutabaga will mature without any problems.
- Remember to weed and hoe around the rutabaga to ensure that water penetrates the soil properly.
- Dead leaf mulch or dried grass trimmings help keep the soil cool over the summer.
- In winter, dead leaf mulch is very effective to protect it from freezing.
Rutabaga is a biennial plant, and generally only flowers in the second year, whereas roots are harvested in the first year.
When harvesting, the rutabaga must feel firm and heavy. A square yard (1 m²) should yield an estimated 9 lbs (4 kg) on average.
Fall and winter rutabaga are best harvested just when you plan to eat them; they will also keep well in a cool and ventilated place.
- Rutabaga keep best when left in the ground, even all winter long.
- Pull them out preferably in dry weather.
- If you bury them in dry sand, they will keep longer still.
They keep easily over several weeks, preferably in a cellar or in a cool, dark room.
You can also leave your rutabaga in the ground over the winter, even though harvesting them is a bit difficult when it freezes for a long time.
To keep winter rutabaga best, leave them in the ground until March, at least those that have been sown as late as possible.
- If you only need to keep them a few days, the vegetable rack in your refrigerator is fine.
Rutabaga is cooked and eaten similarly to turnips, except that they generally need longer cooking.
- Start with washing the rutabaga well, using a brush with running water if needed.
- Peel the rutabaga and dice it into pieces about 1 inch (3 cm) across or smaller.
- Avoid eating the core of the rutabaga if light brown.
Prepare a large pot with salted water:
- Rutabaga may need up to an hour to cook.
- Boil until the rutabaga is soft at heart.
- To check that it is cooked enough, stab it with a sharp knife, it should sink in the flesh effortlessly.
- Drip dry.
Learn more about rutabaga
Rutabaga are said to have therapeutic benefits, they are diuretic and help the digestive tract to “cleanse” itself. They are also fiber-rich and high in vitamin C and bring on very few calories.
Rutabaga in the kitchen
Rutabaga is appreciated for its nutty flavor.
Rutabaga are most often eaten cooked instead of raw, either mashed, baked with cheese, and even fried much like potatoes can be.
They are often paired with other winter vegetables such as turnips or carrots. They can also be added to typical winter dishes, like soup broth.
It is often easier to peel rutabaga with a sharp knife rather than the usual vegetable peeler. The thick flesh makes this difficult enough to be forewarned!
Smart tip about rutabaga
Beware of letting the ground dry up, water abundantly during hotter months.