Since May is National Rutabaga Month, it seemed appropriate to write a newsletter about growing them. Similar to and sometimes mistaken for its cousin the turnip. In fact it is often called a yellow turnip. Rutabagas are larger, rounder, denser and sweeter than turnips. This cabbage-family root vegetable resembles a large (3 to 5 inches in diameter) turnip and, in fact, is thought to be a cross between cabbage and turnip. However, the rutabaga is endowed with more carbohydrates, sugars and vitamin C, has a firmer flesh and keeps longer. The name comes from the Swedish rotabagge, which is why this vegetable is also called a Swede or Swedish turnip. Rutabagas have a thin, pale yellow skin and a slightly sweet, firm flesh of the same color. There is also a white variety but it is not generally commercially available. Rutabaga appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. Though the early history of the rutabaga remains obscure, the name is derived from the Swedish words for thick root." The rutabaga can be cultivated in the most marginal climates and soils of places like Scandanavia, Finland and Ireland. Until the importation of the potato from South America in the mid-16th century, entire populations on the fringes of Europe were sustained by the rutabaga and the turnip. They enjoy cool weather. Rutabagas grow best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Best root growth occurs in cool temperatures. Work the soil to a depth of 6 inches and remove stones and other debris that may deform the roots. Heavy soil causes poorly formed roots. The seed are planted 1/2 inch deep, in rows 18 inches apart, in early April. Plants are thinned to 8 inch spacings. A second planting can be made in early July to give a fall crop or a crop for winter storage. Weed control is needed for a good crop. After thinning, the plants benefit from a 3 inch mulch. . A 10-foot row should produce 8 to 10 pounds of rutabagas. Bolting is caused by prolonged cold weather after the plants werewell along in development. Long necks and small roots are common on early planted rutabagas subjected to hot weather and on slow growing plants. Corky and pithy roots can be caused by too much nitrogen or hot weather. Harvest as soon as the roots reach an edible size. Most roots are used when 4 to 5 inches in diameter. The foliage may also be harvested for greens. Rutabagas require approximately 90 to 95 days from planting until harvest. After harvest, trim off the foliage to within 1 inch of the crown with a sharp knife. Also remove the tap root. Rutabagas should be stored at 35 to 40oF with a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent. Rutabagas may also be heavily mulched in the garden in late fall and harvested through the winter months. Rutabaga will self pollinate and cross pollinate, so different varieties must be separated by one mile. Caging is necessary when growing more than one variety for seed. Rutabaga are biennials, so they must be saved for second year flowering. In milder climates  they can be mulched and left in the ground. In colder climates you must harvest and store them in your cellar until spring. After the last hard frost trim the tops to 2 inches and store in sawdust at 32-40 degrees and 90-95% humidity. They form 3 foot seed stalks with long seed pods which mature unevenly. Therefore, after maturity begins, many seed harvesting sessions are necessary.


Garlic, Chives, Anise, Coriander, Nasturtiums and Petunias will repel Aphids. If Nasturtiums do attract Aphids then the soil may be too acid and should be "sweetened" by adding lime. Mint may discourage Ants as these insects will "farm" Aphids and protect them from predators.


Gardening in Clay Soil

Because clay soil is so finely textured, it tends to stay wet and sticky for a long time. And if you work it or walk on it when it's wet, it compacts easily. Compaction creates poor drainage. And when that wet, sticky soil finally dries out, it can bake into clumps hard as rocks. This makes it tough for roots and seedlings to make any headway. So rather than making mud pies, spread 2 to 3 inches of organic matter across your soil. Bark, rotted manure, leaf mold, peat moss and compost are good choices for organic ingredients. Sprinkle in a fertilizer (such as fish feritlizer) to give your soil a nutritious boost. Next, till, fork or dig your compost and fertilizer into the top 6 to 7 inches of the soil. Add 4 to 5 inches of sand on top of that organic matter-clay mix for an even better-structured soil. Roughly equal portions of organic matter, clay and sand create the ideal mix for gardeners: loam. But if you thought mud pies were bad, make sure you wait until you've added the organic matter before working in sand or you may be mixing up "cement" pies.

Use this measure when you're buying sand: A cubic yard will cover an 18-by-9-foot area spread 2 inches deep. And remember, this isn't a one-time proposition. Organic matter is at its best when it's decomposing, so keep adding compost to the mix. Plus, by consistently building your soil, over time you'll raise the nutrient level in the soil to the point where you'll rely less (or maybe even not at all) on synthetic fertilizers.


Use "Willow Water" to make your own root-stimulating hormone. Gather pencil-thin willow branches and snip them to 1-inch lengths. When you have cut up about two cups, dump the pieces into a half-gallon container. Then fill the container with boiling water and let the whole thing sit overnight. The next day, strain out the twigs and put the pale-brown liquid into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. It keeps its effectiveness for up to two months if you store it in the refrigerator. Just be sure to label it so you don't drink it accidentally,  it's not poisonous, but it probably won't taste good.

When you take cuttings from your shrubs and  perennials, place the stems in a jar filled with willow water so they can absorb some overnight. Then pot the cuttings as usual. You can even water them in with more of your special concoction. Use willow water to root azaleas, lilacs, summersweets and even roses. It stimulates roots on almost everything Ive tried.



"The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before."




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