Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Are Rutabagas?

Creamy mashed Rutabaga like my family makes
by Ed Powers
‘What are rutabagas?’ was the question I asked myself when introduced to this vegetable by my wife and in-laws.  They had a tradition of having rutabagas for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, a tradition brought over from England and Canada.  I must admit, I found rutabagas to be very good and we now have them every Holiday Season. It’s like having mashed potatoes, but they are rutabagas.  In Michigan, where we lived, rutabagas were easy to find (grown in Canada and shipped in).  Here in Colorado, not so much.  So, I had to do some research to see if I might be able to grow them at my altitude (7,600’).  When doing the research, I found some interesting information.

Rutabaga’s botanical name is Brassica napobrassica, and rutabagas are only called ‘rutabaga’ in the U.S. Throughout the rest of the world, they're known as swedes. This ordinary root vegetable is thought to have originated in Bohemia in the 17th century as a hybrid between a turnip and wild cabbage. It is a large, round, yellow-fleshed root that is eaten as a vegetable.  The earliest reference in print was from 1620 when it was noted that this vegetable could be found growing wild in Sweden.  Rutabagas first appeared in North America about 1817 where they were reportedly being grown in Illinois.

Turnips (Brassica rapa) are usually white or white/purple while rutabagas are usually yellowish and brown. Rutabagas are slightly sweeter tasting than turnips, and the most obvious visible difference between them is their size. Turnips for human consumption are harvested when small and tender. They tend to get woody when bigger. Turnips are also grown as a nutritious livestock feed. Rutabagas stay tender at larger sizes. Even though you might find some small ones, they are usually harvested at a larger size. So, the big yellowish ones are rutabagas, and the smaller white and purple ones are turnips.
Physical Difference between Turnip and Rutabaga
Difference between Turnips and Rutabagas

Rutabagas are also called Swede or Swedish turnips, yellow turnips, and "neeps." Many simply call them turnips. Best of all, turnips and rutabagas are easy to grow, and store, and are relatively pest-free.  Much of the crop's success depends on timing.

Rutabagas grown in raised gardens 
So, after finding this background information, I went on to learn how to grow them. What I needed to do is to sow a spring crop in early March 1/4 inch deep. Seeds may be broadcast and later thinned to three or four inches apart, or they can be planted in rows 18 or more inches apart. Give rutabaga plants six inches in which to grow.  I followed this planting routine for the first time in Colorado last spring.  Even though it was very dry this year I watered every other day.  The leaves grew huge and seem to cover the garden area.  I did not believe it was growing anything.  However, I harvested the second week in October and I had rutabagas anywhere from 3 to 6 inches.  So, we can grow them at our altitude!  We will be planting them again next year.

Michigan State University
Pictures Courtesy of:
Tablescence .com
Live and Learn-Toss and Turn

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