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Rutabaga

Some vegetables seem to reside on the fringes of food fashion — that’s where you are likely to find rutabagas. The name itself sounds kind of fun, but not many gardeners, or cooks, have ever tried growing or cooking with rutabagas. They’re now gaining traction in the food world as interest in cool-season crops and root vegetables picks up. Modern chefs rave about rutabagas. Gardeners should get into the game, too.

Rutabagas — also known as Swedes, sometimes called yellow turnips, and occasionally referred to as neeps — are grown for their solid round roots. They’re related to cabbages and turnips. As with turnips, you can also eat the leafy tops. Rutabagas thrive in northern European climates and in the northern United States. Rutabaga’s small, black seeds can be sown in mid summer, about three months before the first frost; cool fall temperatures, into early winter, are ideal growing conditions. Rutabagas develop their sweet taste after they have been exposed to light frost. They will also grow in warmer climates, but need a little longer to mature.

Purple-top rutabagas are the best-known variety. They grow to about the size of a softball and are dark purple above the soil line and buff-colored below. The flesh is golden. They can be roasted, pureed, sautéed, added to soups and stews, mashed with potatoes and carrots, or even pickled. Rutabagas keep well in a refrigerator, in a root cellar, or in the garden, mulched with straw.

A bumper crop seems to inspire more than the menu. At the Great Adirondack Rutabaga Festival every year in Keene, New York, kids decorate rutabagas with funny faces, people juggle rutabagas, and rutabaga royalty are crowned. In Ithaca, New York, a rutabaga curling championship is held at the end of December, on the last day of the local farmers market. They may not be suitable for the table after the curling competition, but it’s great public relations for an under-appreciated vegetable.

Read the next Article: Pomegranate

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • If the best looking melons in the garden had little or no flavor last summer, the problem may be the variety planted. Some melon types do better in a region than others and only trial and error or an experienced local gardener or county extension agent can guide you.

    Occasionally the problem is the soil. It may lack sufficient nutrients or the pH can be too low. Dig in compost or rotted manure before planting. Melons do best in neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Have your soil tested and if the pH is below 6.5, amend with lime. Sometimes a lot of rain near the time of harvest will dilute the sugar in melons affecting taste. Watermelons will regain their sugars if you hold off harvesting for a few days. Cantaloupes will not.