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The rutabaga is a bit of an odd vegetable. It is not commonly talked about in gardening circles. Some people may have not yet taken the less traveled path and tasted one. Some people may have never heard of this unique thing. And, of course, some people may have yet to grow one. With that said, this how- to article hopes to clear up and shed some light on the peculiar vegetable called the rutabaga.

The rutabaga goes by many names. Some of the more often used names include: Swedes, Russian turnip, Swedish Turnip, winter turnip, yellow turnip, and Canadian turnip. The rutabaga is a root vegetable which is the result of the marriage between a turnip and the cabbage. It is thought that this odd act of cross-pollination took place in Bohemia during the 17th century. Since then rutabagas have been grown for both animal and human consumption.

Consuming the root portion of this vegetable is a healthy act. The rutabaga is full of beneficial nutrients. It is low in fat and sodium. It is high in potassium and dietary fiber. It is low in overall carbohydrates. It contains protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. It is also a good source of vitamin C. The rutabaga can be eaten often as a healthy side dish with a variety of meals.

One of the more fun side dishes that includes rutabaga goes by the name rutamouse. Pronounced phonetically as: ru-ta-moose. Yes. In a nutshell, it is a mash-up of potatoes, carrots, and rutabaga. Rutamouse is easy to prepare. The first step is to peel and then cut the vegetables into same size chunks about 1-2 inches. Then boil them until they are fork tender. This will take approximately 20 minutes or so. Then drain them well. Place all the vegetables back in the pot or a large boil. Mash them all together with butter until they are smooth and chunk-free. Then serve. Add a dollop of butter and salt and pepper to taste. It won’t disappoint.

The rutabaga is sold in the produce section of most grocery stores in the area. However, if taking the more adventurous route, they can be grown in the vegetable garden. It is fortunate that rutabagas can be started indoors and then the seedlings can be planted outdoors. Start the seeds 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost date in a constantly cool area. Then transition the seedlings to the outdoors in a partially shady location for about two weeks before planting permanently outside. Once permanently planted make sure the new plants are spaced 16 inches apart. This will help to ensure the roots are large and round. The best time to plant the seedlings outdoors is mid-summer.

The rutabaga will grow in almost any type of soil. They do best in a slightly acidic clay loam. They do not do well in extreme sand. Anything in between will work. For best results rutabaga need to be fertilized so amend the soil right away. They go through a lot of nutrients. They are also susceptible to boron deficiency. This nutrient deficiency leads to holes in the interior of the root and it will compromise the quality.

Once the soil is amended and the seedlings transplanted, it is important to mulch. This will help keep the soil cool and moist. A row cover tunnel can be used to protect the plants from summer pests. As the growing season moves closer to fall the row covers can be removed. This is the best time to grow the rutabaga. Their growth will take off so water them frequently.

Their older leaves will tend to fall off so remove them from the area routinely. This will help prevent slugs and other pests from hanging around. Then harvest after the first frost. They will be sweeter and more delicious.

The rutabaga is a unique vegetable not often discussed in the general conversation or gardening circles. It is nutritious, easy to grow, and makes a fun rutamouse side dish. Make sure to give them a try. They are tasty! Happy Gardening!

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Jayne Bielecki is a nurse educator, naturalist, and environmentalist in the Chippewa Valley who enjoys working with nature. Most days you can find her happily digging in the dirt.

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