Rutabaga, all the tips on how to grow rutabaga


Rutabaga, also called swede when the flesh is white, is an ancient heirloom vegetable.

Key Rutabaga facts

NameBrassica napobrassica
Family – Brassicaceae
Type – root 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.

Rutabaga is particularly well suited to climates where winters are cold and wet. From sowing to harvesting, caring and preserving, every step is important and helps produce quality rutabaga.

Sowing and planting rutabaga

Sowing rutabagaSowing rutabaga is best done indoors from March to April or directly in the ground from May to July.

  • 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.

Rutabaga careBasic 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 pests

Occasionally, when there aren’t any more appetizing host plants nearby, a female large white will come lay eggs on leaves. Simply brush the caterpillars off into a jar and feed them to chickens to get rid of them.

Harvesting rutabaga

Rutabaga is a biennial plant, and generally only flowers in the second year. Roots are ready for harvest before that, in the first year. Leave a few of the largest behind to go to seed and prepare the following year’s seed supply.

Rutabaga harvestWhen harvesting, the rutabaga must feel firm and heavy. A square yard (1 m²) should yield an estimated 9 lbs (4 kg) on average.

Harvest Fall and Winter rutabaga just when you plan to eat them; they will also keep well in a cool and ventilated place.

  • Rutabaga keeps best when left in the ground, even all winter long.
  • Pull it out preferably in dry weather.
  • If you bury them in dry sand, they will keep longer still.

Keeping rutabaga

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 the soil soft, pile straw loosely atop the most mature roots, those that are next in line for the harvest. Keep the straw there for a couple weeks, the soil beneath it will warm up just enough to make harvesting a cinch. When harvesting, shift the straw over to the next few roots like a rolling carpet.

Leave them in the ground until March, at which point it’s best to harvest any remaining ones or else they’ll begin to sprout.

  • If you only need to keep them a few days, the vegetable rack in your refrigerator is fine.

Cooking rutabaga

Rutabaga is cooked and eaten similarly to turnip, 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.

Rutabaga cookingPrepare 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.

It seems that rutabaga stemmed from turnips crossed with kale.

Rutabaga in the kitchen

Rutabaga is a favorite of children for its nutty flavor.

This root vegetable is most often eaten cooked instead of raw, either mashed, baked with cheese, and even fried much like potatoes can be.

Pair them together with other winter vegetables such as turnips or carrots. Add them 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, so be forewarned!

Smart tip about rutabaga

Beware of letting the ground dry up, water abundantly during hotter months.

Images: 123RF: Gert-Jan van Vliet, Iakov Filimonov, CC BY 2.0: Eileen Kane; depositphotos: dar19.30; iStock: Danler