Good Cool-Weather Crops: Growing Rutabaga, Turnips and Kohlrabi

Learn the sowing and growing steps for turnips, rutabaga and kohlrabi and reap the rewards of cool-weather crops.

| September 27, 2012

  • New  Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques
    "The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques" by the American Horticultural Society provides an in-depth look into gardening.  This book contains details on how to grow cool-weather crops and help solve plant problems.
    Cover Courtesy of Mitchell Beazley
  • Young Turnip
    Harvest young turnips as needed, or by late fall in all but the mildest areas. Store in sand or dry soil in a frost-free basement.
    Courtesy of Mitchell Beazley

  • New  Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques
  • Young Turnip

Plant problems can be prevented with appropriate preparation and attention.  The American Horticultural Society’s New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques (Mitchell Beazley, 2009) gives a detailed look into planting from preparation to harvest. This discussion of cool-weather crops is taken from Chapter 4, "Growing Vegetables & Herbs." 

Rutabaga, Turnips and Kohlrabi

Rutabaga and turnips are both members of the cabbage family, and should be included in the cabbage part of your crop rotation. Both are grown for their edible roots. The leaves of turnips can also be eaten. Kohlrabi is grown in the same way as turnips but the swollen stem is the edible part. Some varieties have purple coloring and are grown for their ornamental as well as culinary value.

Turnips are quick growing; both spring and fall crops can be grown in most regions. Young roots are amazingly succulent and sweetly flavored; older roots become woody and coarse flavored. Rutabaga grows slowly but is very hardy. It has harder, yellower flesh with a distinctive, sweet flavor, and its leaves usually arise from a 'neck.' Both are badly affected by drought; rutabaga in particular grows best in moist, cool soil. Kohlrabi is considered to be much less drought sensitive.

Site and Soil

These crops are usually sown where they are to grow, but where convenient they can be grown in cell packs or propagation trays, sowing three seeds per cell and thinning to the strongest seedling as soon as possible. Any seed starter or all-purpose mix can be used.

Any fertile, well-drained garden soil in full sun suits rutabaga, kohlrabi, and turnips, while light shade is acceptable for turnip tops. Dig in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure. For the best yields, rake in an all-purpose fertilizer at the application rate recommended on the package. Acid soils promote clubroot; where this disease is present liming to at least pH 6.5 is the best way of reducing damage. Resistant varieties are sometimes available, but these may not be resistant to all forms of clubroot. Cabbage root maggots may also be a problem; rotate crops to avoid a buildup of this pest.

Sowing, Cultivation and Harvesting

Sow summer turnips (see below) from late winter or early spring, initially protecting with row covers in colder climates. The earliest sowings, gathered in early summer when few other vegetables are available, are the most valuable, but later sowings in summer produce a fall crop with a flavor that sweetens after exposure to frost.

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