(Species: Brassica napus napobrassica - Family: Cruciferae)
Rutabaga/Swede and its origins
The rutabaga, swede or Swedish turnip is a root vegetable thought to have originated in central Europe as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip.
It is a relatively new vegetable and its history can only be traced back as far as its use in 17th century Europe, when it was not only eaten by humans but also used as winter fodder for their animals. In the 19th century, its use spread to the USA and Canada.
This hardy biennial vegetable resembles a turnip but grows much larger. The swede’s greenish or purplish roots contain a yellow, sweet-tasting flesh. It usually weighs up to about 1kg, is about 18cm wide and deep. The circumference is generally about 55cm.
Swede can take a long time to reach maturity, as long as eight months, so is not a good idea for the kitchen garden where space is at a premium. It is generally used as an autumn and winter vegetable in soups and casseroles.
How to plant: Rutabaga/Swede
Swedes do well in most types of soil but they dislike soil that is too acidic, and they do need a lot of nutrients. Prepare the soil well in advance by digging in plenty of well-rotted manure about a month before sowing as well as incorporating a general fertiliser XXX.
Soil must be free-draining, as they will not thrive in water-logged soil. Digging in compost can help break up the texture of the soil and thus improve drainage.
Seeds are sown in late spring, for harvesting from early autumn through to the end of the year. Sow directly into the ground, about 1cm deep, with about 38cm between the rows. When the seedlings develop, thin them out so they are about 23cm apart. Seed can also be started off in seed trays indoors, and the seedlings planted out when manageable size.
When the young rutabaga plants are growing in the ground, regular hoeing is helpful to stop weeds competing for nutrients in the soil. Swedes don't require frequent watering, but do need watering every week or so, and more often through dry periods.
Harvest the roots from late summer to early autumn when they have reached the required size. They can remain in the ground late into the year, but if they are left for too long can become woody. They can however be stored in a cool, frost-free place providing you remove the leaves first.
Swede can suffer from club root, especially if the soil is too acidic. Root maggots can also be problematic, especially if rutabaga is planted in an area where similar roots crops were grown the previous year, so it is sensible to rotate crops to avoid this. The larvae of the cabbage root fly can cause damage to the roots, but this can be avoided by installing a fine-netting barrier or covering the plants with fleece to prevent the female fly from laying eggs in the soil nearby.
Did you know: Rutabaga/Swede facts
The rutabaga is highly nutritious and is a good source of calcium and magnesium.
Since 1996 the Annual Rutabaga Curling World Championship has been held at the Farmers' Market in Ithaca, New York, with swedes being hurled distances of up to 24 metres.
On the classic 1960s Mothers of Invention album, Absolutely Free, Frank Zappa devoted the mid-section of his composition Call Any Vegetable to singing about the rutabaga.