Rutabaga is an herbaceous biennial in the family Brassicaceae grown primarily for its edible root. Rutabaga is a root vegetable. Other names include Swedish turnip, neep, rwden/rwdins, and turnip – however, elsewhere the name "turnip" usually refers to the related white turnip. The species Brassica napus originated as a hybrid between the cabbage and the turnip. The botanical name of rutabaga is Brassica napus variety napobrassica. They are typically planted in spring, but they can be planted in fall in warm climates.
The plant is believed to be a hybrid of turnip and wild cabbage. The leaves grow from a stout swollen stem (neck) close to the ground forming the crown the plant. Rutabaga leaves are thick smooth and waxy. They are lobed and have a bluish hue. The plant produces light yellow flowers which are clustered at the top of a raceme. Unlike turnip, the flowers do not extend above the terminal buds. The taproot of the plant is is a bulbous tuber, almost perfectly round, which can be purple, white or yellow with yellow flesh.
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1 - 3 feet
1 - 2 feet
5.5 - 7.0
Varieties of Rutabaga
American Purple Top Rutabaga
This variety is a tasty, mild, and sweet rutabaga that tastes excellent cooked or raw and looks pretty on the plate thanks to its bright yellow flesh. It’s a pre-1920 heirloom seed perfect for your fall garden.
Champion Purple Top Rutabaga
Champion rutabagas mature in 80 days, growing large, smooth roots that are pale ivory with purple tops. The flesh is fine-textured, mild, and sweet. This variety is more common in Europe.
It takes 90 days for this variety to mature. When it does, it produces a purple crown that’s light yellow below the top. The roots are about 5 inches in diameter.
Navone Yellow Cabbage Turnip
Often called Swedish turnip, this rutabaga variety is a delicious winter crop that produces deep golden-yellow colored roots with a rich and sweet taste. They taste delicious roasted, baked, mashed, and more.
Joan produces uniform round roots with purple tops. This rutabaga is sweet and mild when young, but flavor is enhanced after the first frost. Maturing in 120 days, this rutabaga works well for fall harvesting.
Marian rutabagas produce large, yellow roots with purple tops and may grow up to 8 inches in diameter. They mature in 85 to 95 days, making them a smart choice for late summer and early fall harvest. "Marian" rutabagas store well in a root cellar and retain their flavor for up to four months in storage.
This Russian variety is sweet and delicious. It is highly resistant to frosty cold conditions.
Rutabagas prefer full sun (or light shade). Grow them in the ground or in raised beds with deep, loose soil without any rocks or soil clumps. While rutabagas will tolerate ordinary soil, the roots will grow bigger in fertile soil that’s been enriched with a layer of compost or organic matter. Avoid planting rutabagas and other cole crops in the same place more than once every 3 to 4 years.
When to Plant Rutabagas
The main challenge with rutabagas is getting the timing right. Rutabagas must mature in cool weather (no warmer than 60°F at night). They need at least 3 months to mature, so count back 90 days from your fall frosts to estimate a good sowing time. Roots will become woody and fibrous if they get a warm spell when maturing. A light fall frost improves the roots’ quality and flavor.
How to Plant Rutabagas
Maximize your harvest with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer, adding half of the recommended amount at planting and half about 4 weeks after planting. Avoid too much nitrogen at all once, which can impeded bulb formation.
Sow seeds when the soil reaches 40ºF. Optimum soil temperatures are 40º to 60º F.
Plant seeds 1/2 of an inch deep, 2 inches apart, in rows 14 to 18 inches apart.
To sidestep a hot summer, start seedlings indoors and set them out when it’s cloudy. Or direct-seed into the ground and thin later to proper spacing.
Seeds will germinate in 4 to 7 days. After germination, thin to 6 inches apart. Do NOT crowd rutabagas or they will grow huge tops with skinny roots.
Rutabagas do best in full sun, which means about 6 hours of direct exposure per day. They will tolerate partial shade.
Rutabagas prefer a slightly acidic soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Good soil fertility will help them grow throughout their long season; amend the soil before planting if it is poor. Most importantly, make sure the soil is well-draining so the bulbs don't rot.
Proper watering is vital for good root development. Give your rutabagas at least 1 inch of water per week; give them more during particularly hot, dry weather.
Temperature and Humidity
Rutabagas grow well in a range of temperature and humidity conditions. In dry areas, they are prone to cracking and will not develop their sweetness if they're not given enough water. Rutabagas are sweetened by a little frost. You can harvest them in the fall (or late winter in warmer climates) or you can leave them in the ground with a thick layer of straw mulch and harvest as needed.
If you start with soil that is rich in organic matter, you won't need any additional fertilizer. A side dressing of compost, applied mid-season, will give your plants the boost they'll need to get through to fall.
Harvest the roots when they are 4 to 5 inches in diameter for best taste. (They’ll be the size of a softball.) Be gentle when harvesting the roots.
However, you call also harvest early—when the roots are 2 to 3 inches in diameter—for a more tender, succulent texture.
The roots will push up out of the ground as they gain size; this is perfectly normal. Note that garden-grown rutabagas tend to be more top-shaped than round.
A few frosts will enhance the sweet flavor of rutabagas, but be sure to harvest before the ground freezes.
Rutabaga foliage is edible when harvested young and tender. However, do not harvest more than a few leaves per root, as they need their foliage to grow big roots.
How to Store Rutabagas
To store, cut off the foliage to within 1 inch of the crown with a sharp knife. Wash the roots lightly before letting them dry for a day in a cool place.
Store the roots in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
Or, store a larger harvest in moist sand or sawdust in a cold garage, shed, basement, or root cellar. However, to last long (up to four months), rutabagas need high humidity (90 to 95%) and cold temperatures (just above freezing).
Pests and Plant Diseases
Alternaria Leaf Spot
This fungal disease destroys a wide variety of plants. It usually shows up as spots on a plant that turns from yellow to black with yellow halos. These lesions can turn necrotic and can kill off the entire plant.
You can use liquid copper fungicides or sulfur fungicides to control it. Help prevent it by keeping away pests, since they can spread the disease.
Black spot pops up as yellow lesions that eventually turn black and necrotic. Practice good sterilization techniques, maintain good crop rotation, water at the base of plants in the morning, and give plants plenty of space when planting to help avoid it.
Downy mildew looks like yellow or white fuzzy patches on leaves. It can cause leaves to turn brown and fall off the plant. It tends to impact rutabaga more than other plants because it attacks during cool, wet weather – just kind of conditions rutabaga prefer.
The best defense is a good offense. Keep plants well spaced and trimmed back if necessary. Water in the morning at the base of plants. Both of these techniques help keep moisture from accumulating. Destroy any impacted plants. If you’ve struggled with downy mildew in your area, use a copper spray preventatively two weeks before the disease normally starts to show up in your garden.
Large populations of cabbage aphids can stunt growing rutabagas and even make your plant die. Aphids are tiny and hard to spot. They’re small, grey-green and are covered with a white waxy coating. Once you spot where the cabbage aphids are located, knock them off with a strong jet of water. Insecticides are only needed for large infestations. Another trick is to plant nasturtiums throughout the rutabaga patch as a trap crop for aphids.
Root maggots create feeding tunnels on the surface of the rutabaga, and root damage can be extensive. The larvae are white or white-yellow, reaching 1 cm in length. Adult root maggots look like a small housefly.
Prevention is vital with root maggots. Never plant root crops in the same area the following year. If the vegetables are severely damaged, harvest and remove the roots, destroying all crop debris. The use of floating row covers can help hep to reduce damage to crops by preventing the female adult flies from laying eggs. Unfortunately, there are no pesticides for use on root maggots.
If you notice small holes or pits in the leaves, you might have flea beetles. Young plants and seedlings are the most vulnerable to flea beetles, and they cause reduced plant growth. If infestations are too large, it can kill the plant.
Flea beetles are small, dark-colored beetles that are shiny in appearance. You can use floating row covers before the emergence of beetles to protect the young plants. For mature plants, you can use trap crops as a measure of control as well as applications of neem oil.
This disease occurs when soil is poorly draining and acidic, and clubroot can linger in the ground for up to 20 years. Clubroot leads to distorted roots, stunted growth, wilting, and ruined crops. Never plant rutabaga in a bed that had clubroot in the past.
Benefits of Rutabaga
Helps to Prevent Cancer
The composition of Rutabaga involves a diverse range of antioxidants, that promotes healthy cell functioning and acts as a preventive measure against cancer cells.
Rutabaga contains glucosinolates, which is known to effectively combat tumors and other malignant growth in the body. It also helps to reduce and prevent any toxic effect of free radicals in the body.
Delays the Process of Ageing
Rutabaga helps in the generation of healthy cells, thereby slowing down the process of ageing. It also helps to maintain good eyesight.
The high amounts of fibers helps to regularize bowel movements. The nutrients in Rutabaga also helps to improve the metabolism of the body. Rutabaga is also known to prevent constipation and other gastrointestinal distress in the body. It is a low-calorie vegetable that is rich in essential nutrients. The consumption of this vegetable promotes weight loss.
Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Rutabaga contains large amounts of potassium, which is essential in preventing unnecessary contraction and blockage of the blood vessels, that can lead to a stroke. It increases oxygen supply in the vital organs that can maintain proper fuctioning of the body system. Potassium also helps to reduce cholesterol levels. It can therefore prevent heart attacks, atheroscleresis or thrombosis.
Prevents Osteoporosis and Bone Weakness
Rutabaga is known to be rich in the minerals zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus. These minerals play a major role in the maintenence and strengthening of bones. They also help in the creation of bone tissue, eventually preventing wearing away of the bones, especially in middle aged and older people.
Good for Diabetics
Rutabagas are alternatives to potatoes, especially for diabetic patients who would like to avoid the carbs. Therefore this vegetable can be eaten without worrying about fluctuating sugar level in the blood.
Good for Weight Loss
Rutabagas do not contain high calories, empty calories or high amounts of carbohydrates. It is rich in fibers that prevents overeating, regularises the bowel movements and keeps the stomach full for a longer period of time.
Promotes Proper Enzymatic Function
Zinc is of utmost necessity for the regulation of proper enzymatic functions in the body. Without the proper enzymatic functions, our vital organs would eventually become ineffecient. Rutabaga is known to contain high amounts of zinc and is therefore an important part of our diet.
Boosts Your Immune System
Rutabaga is known to strengthen the immune system of the body, thereby preventing diseases and infections to a large extent.
Helps to Improve Eyesight
Rutabaga, being rich in nutrients, minerals and vitamins helps to improve weakening eyesight due to age or other factors.
Helps to Reduce Colorectal Cancer
Rutabaga is rich in antioxidants and reduces the harmful effects of free radicals by promoting healthy cell division. Therefore, it helps to prevent the growth of malignant cells and tumours in the body.
Helps to Promote Production of Red Blood Cells
Abundance of Vitamin B9, or folate in rutabaga promotes breakdown of protein cells, that helps in the production of red blood cells and cell division. These are also necessary for the development of the nervous system.
Rutabagas are used in all sorts of cuisines, from Scandinavian to British to American.
They can be eaten raw, but are usually roasted, cooked and mashed (sometimes with potatoes or other root vegetables), and used in casseroles, stews and soups.
The roots and tops of "swedes" came into use as a forage crop in the early nineteenth century, used as winter feed for livestock. They may be fed directly (chopped or from a hopper), or animals may be allowed to forage the plants directly in the field.