Friday, May 29, 2020

Give Rutabagas a Try!

Give Rutabagas a Try! 

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin, CSU Extension 

The first time I ever saw rutabaga plants growing in a garden was at an historic ranch above 9,000’ near Telluride. I thought the blue-gray leaves were so beautiful and I’ve wanted to grow them ever since!

This year my doctor asked me to do an elimination diet to determine foods that cause inflammatory reactions in my body. Potatoes are on the list of inflammatory foods that I needed to eliminate so that is when I re-introduced rutabagas as a more regular part of my diet, as a potato substitute. My favorite ways to prepare them have been mashed with butter, fresh chives and dairy free yogurt, which cuts the sweetness a little. They are also good roasted and in beef stew. They are very nutritious!

Photo credit: Botanists in the Kitchen

What most of us in the states refer to as rutabagas, are also called “swedes” in Europe, “neeps” in Scotland, and “snaggers” or “narkies” by the northern Brits. It is also known as “Swedish turnip” or “yellow turnip.” The word rutabaga comes from the Swedish word “rotabagge” which means “round root.” They are more related to Siberian kale and canola than to turnips. 

It has long been believed that B. napus are a naturally occurring cross between B. rapa (turnips, etc.) and B. oleraceae (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other cruciferous vegetables). Recent research, led by Missouri State University, discovered that the genetic history of these brassicas is much more complicated and that B. napus has one of the most complex genomes of all flowering plants. For an interesting read on the history and relationship between turnips and rutabagas go to

Rutabagas are an easy and nutritious food crop to grow in mountain communities with cool summers. They are a good storage crop and you can also eat the greens. Depending on the length of your growing season, direct seed them in your garden anytime between mid-May and the beginning of July, in deeply cultivated, well-drained, fertile soil. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. 

Roots harvested in the fall rather than late summer should have better-tasting roots but be sure to harvest them all before a hard freeze. They are supposedly even better tasting after having been stored for a while. Someone told me the other day that their family would store their rutabagas, and bring them out for special dinners. 

American Purple Top, Photo credit: Ferry Morse Seed

Some rutabagas have purple shoulders, and some have green shoulders. Some have yellow flesh, and some have white flesh. This year is my first time to grow them and the varieties that I am trying are American Purple Top, Macomber and Nadmorska. 

American Purple Top is a standard rutabaga, with large dark-yellow, sweet roots that store well, 90 days to maturity. Macomber has white flesh with either green or purple shoulders and skin that is smooth and easily cleaned, 100 days to maturity. Nadmorska has yellow flesh and green shoulders, mild flavor and stores well, 85-100 days to maturity.
'Nadmorska' rutabagas. Photo courtesy of Siskyou Seeds.
Rutabagas have not been one of the most preferred vegetables, but I am 'rooting' for their comeback!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Plant Look-a-Likes: Poison Hemlock and Osha

Plant Look-a-Likes: Poison Hemlock and Osha
By Jennifer Cook, CSU Extension and USDA-NRCS

The past few years I have seen more and more Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) in Colorado. This plant, along with Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata), are poisonous to livestock and humans. Osha or Porter’s Lovage (Ligusticum porter) is an edible plant, and looks very similar to poison hemlock. Both species are members of the Apiaceae (Parsley) family, but Osha is edible while the Hemlock is very poisonous.

Let’s start with Osha, sometime called wild parsnip, Porter’s Lovage or wild celery (Ligusticum porter). This tall, broadly branching perennial plant has fern like leaves that smell like spicy celery. It grows up to 3 feet tall, and is found in meadows and aspen forests of upper montane and subalpine areas, 7,000 to 10,000 feet. 
Leaves of Osha (Ligusticum porter)
Osha roots, leaves, and seeds are edible and have antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is considered a sacred plant of Native and Hispanic Americans. Those adjusting to high altitudes can chew on a leaf or drink tea made of Osha leaves.

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a non-native biennial that grows up to 8 feet tall. Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is a native that grows up to 4 feet tall. Both species have a foul, musty smell and are found in foothills to montane ecosystems (up to 9,000 feet). 

Poision hemlock (Conium maculatum)
All parts of the Hemlock plants are poisonous. Water hemlock is considered the most poisonous of plants (2-3 bites can kill humans). This plant is famous in the ancient Greek story of Socrates death, in 399 when he drank the deadly hemlock tea. Use gloves when removing these plants. 

Spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) Stems may vary in color and pattern, from solid green or purple to green with purple spots or stripes
These three plants, Osha, Water Hemlock, and Poison Hemlock, look very similar, with white umbel flowers. What are some clues to distinguish them?
  • The elevation at which the plant is growing could be a helpful clue, since poison hemlock is found up to around 9,000 feet and Osha is found higher in subalpine ecosystems.
  • Smell the leaves. If it smells musty its poisonous, if it smells more aromatic it’s probably Osha. 
  • Look at the roots. Osha roots have a brown hairy fringe around the top of the dark root. 
  • Look at the stem. If it had purple spots or stripes, it is poisonous hemlock.

Be sure to identify these properly before grazing or eating.

Refer to the Poison Hemlock factsheet -

Water hemlock poisoning -

Osha -

Friday, May 1, 2020

What I Do In My Garden In Early Spring
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

It is early April and I am about to start my flower seeds inside in my seed area. At the same time, I am thinking about what to do with my 24 feet by 4 feet raised gardens. I live at approximately 8,000 feet and my growing season can be rather short.

My experience has taught me that some plants must be bought in containers, while others can be grown by seed in my seed area. I prefer to buy tomatoes, squash and peppers to transplant. I prefer to direct seed beets and rutabagas.

I begin working in my two raised gardens by:
  • Raking and turning my gardens.
  • Adding new soil and compost.
  • Adding chicken fertilizer. I find this to be a great starter fertilizer.
  • After the last frost, I will turn my water and hose nozzle on. 
Raised garden bed

Because I live at 8,000 feet with a lot of wildlife, I need to protect my raised gardens. I do this by covering them with bird netting, which seems to work. I replace my bird netting at the start of a new garden year. I also cover my garden top with a piece of clear plastic roofing to protect it from hail.
Two raised garden beds

I plant my cucumber seeds and flower seeds indoors in early April. As the seed plants grow, they will be moved to larger pots. I will continue to grow the seed plants until late May when I will move them outside during the day and back indoors at night until early June, when I will plant them in the ground.

By the end of April, I plant my rutabagas, beets, carrots, radishes, and potatoes in the garden. 
Raised garden bed 

Reference CSU Garden notes