How To Grow Rutabagas (Swede)

Botanical Name: Brassica naups var. napobrassica

There’s nothing difficult about how to grow rutabagas in the home garden. Just keep in mind two inflexible rules: rutabaga is a cool weather crop and the seeds are generally not planted until mid to late summer so that the crop matures in the fall, and the soil must be enriched with potash or sifted wood ashes – plus phosphorus — for healthy root development. Otherwise they may grow spindly instead of plump.

Always remember that the tasty rutabagas don’t grow well in hot weather. Gardeners in very hot climates grow rutabagas all winter, rather than growing them with mid-summer vegetables like corn, beans, peppers, and tomatoes. The flavor of rutabaga actually gets sweeter with cold weather.

The season is crucial for planting rutabagas, so it’s important to know when to plant. Figure that rutabaga seeds take 80 to 120 days to mature into full bulbs, depending on the variety and on local conditions; they can be harvested as they reach maturity or stored in the ground after a frost or two as long as the ground doesn’t freeze hard. Once harvested, rutabagas keep well if handled properly, and can be stored for months in a root cellar or refrigerator.

Experts offer several general guidelines about when to plant rutabaga seeds, since there are no hard and fast rules that apply across the great variety of climates in North America. Figure on eight or ten weeks before the first frost to plant, any time after July 15, or even, for gardeners living in very cool zones, late in spring for the longest possible growing season. Use the average date of first frost as a starting point, and then count backwards three or four months. That’s when to plant.

The seeds go directly into the ground, and are generally not started indoors for later transplanting. Growing rutabagas also calls for good soil. A loose, friable soil is ideal for the even growth ofthe bulbous upper roots. The soil should have plenty of moisture throughout the growing season, rather than alternating periods of very wet and dry. Work in plenty of composted manure and other organic materials. And for the best quality rutabagas, incorporate a compound called potash or dig in plenty of ash from the wood stove, sifted to remove large chunks.

Fully grown rutabagas will be about the size of a small grapefruit or a softball, so leave almost two feet between rows, and eventually six inches or more between plants (the seeds are thinned over the season to achieve that spacing). That way the edible roots will grow uniform and round.

Rutabagas require full sun in colder climates, although in hot zones they may benefit from just a little shade protection in the afternoon hours.