Growing Rutabagas – Storing, Cooking & Health Benefits

Have you ever tried growing rutabagas? This cool loving root vegetable has a long growing season and loves to ripen after a frost.  The healthy vegetable has a sweet, peppery cabbage flavor that gets even sweeter as it cooks.

In the US, more people seem to grow turnips than their vegetable cousin, the rutabaga, also known as a Swedish Turnip, or Swede.  This is most likely because rutabagas will take up to 4 months to mature, while a turnip can be grown in far less time.  But the flavor or these vegetables is so wonderful, that it is worth being patient for a few months.

Swede Turnip photo from 1902

Public Domain image from 1902, no known copyright.

Turnips vs Rutabagas

Are turnips and rutabagas the same vegetable? It’s easy to see why people get confused. They both belong to the family – brassica. Both are root vegetables with a somewhat similar appearance.

The botanical name for turnips is Brassica rapa and that for rutabagas is Brassica napobrassicaTurnip vs rutagagas

When they grow, the leaves are different. Turnip leaves are light green and thin, while those of the rutabagas are bluish green and thick. The two vegetables have a somewhat similar shape and are both root vegetables, but turnips are usually smaller than rutabagas.

While both vegetables have a purple crown, rutabagas have a more yellowy flesh and turnips are whiter in color on the bottom of the vegetable as well as the flesh.

Both vegetables have a crunchy texture when raw but get tender during cooking.  If a recipe calls for one vegetable, you can usually substitute the other and get somewhat similar results.

Tips for Growing Rutabagas

The biggest challenge with growing rutabagas is timing when planting to ensure that the plants can grow as long as they need to reach maturity.  These tips will help you get the most out of your plants.

  1. Since rutabagas can take close to 4 months to mature, (check your package for exact days) be sure to get your plants in the ground as soon as weather allows for this length of growing time in your planting zone. This will be different depending on whether you plan to grow them as a fall or winter crop.
  2. Rutabagas are root vegetables so they like to have soil that is amended with compost or other organic matter and is otherwise fertile. Dig and rake the soil before planting.
  3. Sow the seeds about 1/2 inch deep in rows about 2 feet apart. To make it easier for the seedlings to break through and keep the soil from crusting, cover the seeds with a mixture of sand and soil.
  4. When germination occurs, thin to about 1 inch apart and then do a second thinning when the plants are 3-4 inches tall. It’s best for them to be about 4 inches apart at this stage to give the root room to develop.
  5. Be sure to keep the soil weed free so that the roots have room to grown.  (This is especially true of all root crops.) A light mulch will help to keep weeds away and also help to control moisture.
  6. Rutabagas need consistent watering during the growing season.  Spotty or light watering will cause the roots to split.

What does a rutabaga taste like?

A rutabaga has a mild flavor and is slightly sweet.  This is one of the ways that it is really different from a turnip. (Turnips have a more spicy flavor, closer to that of a radish.) The longer a rutabaga grows, the sweeter it will become.A rutabaga has a sweeter taste than a turnip does

Harvesting after a frost in the fall gives the sweetest taste.

How long does it take to grow a rutabaga?

Rutabagas like to ripen when the weather is cool, so it’s important to plant the so that they will be mature then.  They make a great fall crop in the cold planting zones and a good winter crop in warmer zones.

A typical rutabaga plant needs about 80-100 days from the time of planting to harvest. Different types vary. Check your plant tag or seed package to see the exact number of days.

Once you know the days to maturity, count back from the expected first frost to get an approximate planting date and give yourself an extra 10 days for harvesting time.

Varieties of Rutabagas that will mature in 90 days:

  • American Purple-Top Yellow – (yellow flesh)
  • Improved Long Island – (large with red shoulders)
  • Laurentian – (pale yellow and smooth with uniform roots)

Pests and Problems for Rutabagas

Maggots which attack cabbage can also sometimes be a problem for rutabaga roots.  If you discover these, a layering of wood ash on either side of the row helps.

Also be on the lookout for aphids on the undersides of the leaves. A blast of water will dislodge them if you find them.Striped flea beetles can eat 100s of holes in the leaves of rutabagas

Another problem for rutabagas is striped flea beetles that can eat hundreds of tiny holes in the leaves.  Neem oil is an organic remedy for this type of problem.

Row covers will help to keep the pests away.

Storing Rutabagas

If you are lucky enough to have a root cellar or a cool storage place (like a cold basement) to store rutabagas, they will keep for months.  You can also store them in plastic bags in the fridge.Cold cellars will keep root vegetables fresh for months

If you keep the in the fridge, it’s best to keep rutabagas away from raw meat and their juices to prevent cross contamination.

Rutabagas can be left in the ground in freezing weather as long as they are well mulched. You can then dig them up later.

How to cook rutabagas

Rutabagas are ready to eat when they get to be about 3 inches in diameter but you can also leave them until they are much larger. If you let them grow more than 5 or 6 inches, the flesh will get coarse. (‘They look a lot more like a turnip when they are younger!)

Basket with root vegetables and spring onions.

Rutabagas can be eaten raw or cooked.  Common methods of cooking are steaming, boiling, baking and stir frying. I enjoy mine roasted with some olive oil. Rutabagas give you the feeling and texture of potatoes without the starch!

Although the plant is grown for its root, the leaves are also edible and can be used to add to salads.  If you like to use them this way, pick younger leaves, but never more than just a few leaves for each root.

Health benefits of rutabagas

A serving size of rutabagas (100 grams) has 36 calories. They give us a healthy dose of potassium and almost half the daily requirement for vitamin C. The vegetable is a powerhouse of antioxidants.

Rutabaga nutritional information

Rutabagas are also an excellent source of potassium, as well as a good source of fiber and vitamin B6, which helps support the nervous system, as well as calcium for strong bones.

Recipes Using Rutabagas

Rutabagas can be cooked as a side dish in all sorts of ways. Each way of cooking gives the vegetable a different taste and texture. If you haven’t tried them before, one of these recipes might appeal to you.These 10 recipes using rutabagas will turn the root vegetable into a fabulous side dish and more.

Would you like to have a reminder of these tips for storing, using and growing rutabagas?  Pin the image below to one of your gardening Boards on Pinterest.

Growing rutabagas is easy as long as you have the patience for a long growing season. See tips for growing, storing and using this root vegetable

Admin note: This post first appeared on my blog on May of 2013 as a “today’s harvest” post. I have added lots of growing tips and images as well as storage and nutritional tips for your convenience.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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