The Rutabaga, also known as swede in Europe, is thought to have originated from a cross between a turnip and wild cabbage. It resembles a turnip, however, the leaves identify which plant is which; the turnip leaves are light green, thin and hairy, while rutabaga has bluish green leaves that are smooth. The flesh on rutabaga is yellowish in comparison to the white flesh of a turnip.
Rutabaga is a cool season vegetable so grow in the winter months; it will tolerate frost and mildly freezing temperatures. Rutabaga, as do turnips, like the cool conditions which speeds up the growth and improves the quality of the vegetable. Although this beta-carotene-rich vegetable has been marketed for a great number of years, it is not a popular item in American dining. It’s actually a great tasting vegetable with a delicate sweetness and flavor that hints of the light freshness of cabbage and turnip.
To learn more about growing vegetables in your garden see:
Burpee: The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener
All the essential information is there how to condition the soil, how and where to plant, sprouting schedules, what kind of yield to expect from each plant variety, and harvesting tips in beautiful, bountiful, illustrated detail.
As soon as you can work your garden in the springtime you can start sowing rutabaga. However they do better in the fall as this allows them to mature more slowly, but planting should be stopped to allow the roots to form before extreme weather kicks in.
Sow seeds to an inch deep, read instructions on the packet which will tell you when this is appropriated in your area. Sow them in rows which should be 2 foot apart and gently water. When the seedlings appear, thin out so they are 6 inches apart to allow for growth. They require a steady amount of water during the growing stage, about 2 inches weekly, be sure not to let them dry out. To help retain moisture and keep weeds down use organic mulch.
In late fall, increase the amount of mulch around the plants to allow you to leave them in situ till the ground freezes which will improve the quality.
Rutabaga requires about 3 months before harvesting, which is about a month longer than turnips. They should be about 4 inches in diameter, you can pick earlier but the quality will not be as good. You will find that if Rutabagas have been exposed to several light touches of frost they will taste sweeter.
Due to low demand, rutabaga or swede is not easily found in retail outlets. They can be baked, mashed, fried, and are used in stews, soups, and casseroles, also raw in a salad is great. When selecting rutabaga for cooking, go for the smaller ones. Just wash and peel like a potato.
Rutabaga can be stored for a couple of months in very humid conditions and within a temperature range of 32-35 F. Also they will keep for one to two months in the refrigerator.