Growing Rutabaga From Seeds

No need to start rutabaga seeds indoors and then transplant, as these trusty plants grow readily from seeds sown outdoors.



Butter turnips, rutabagas (Brassica napus subsp. Rapifera).

Photo by: Shutterstock/Moolkum


By: Nan Chase

Botanical Name: Brassica napus var. napobrassica

Rutabaga is one of those wonderful vegetable crops that’s easy to grow from seed sown directly into the soil rather than needing to be started indoors and then transplanted. What could be easier than growing rutabaga from seed!

There’s a saying, “Rutabaga follows spinach,” which means that in the gardening year once the cold weather spinach has reached full size in spring and begun to decline by early summer, that failing spinach can be can removed from the garden to make way for the next crop: rutabaga.

Just be sure to enhance the soil between crops by digging in generous helpings of composted manure and other organic material, plus wood ash and perhaps ground lime.

Considered a cool- or cold-weather crop with a preferred harvest time of late autumn or early winter, rutabaga grows over the course of three to four months from seed to maturity, improving after the first frost or two in taste and tenderness. The early greens on top make a garden delicacy.

Along the way there are a few steps to remember. Rutabaga seeds – looking like tiny pellets – are always sown 1/2 inch deep in well-prepared soil, with the seeds themselves planted 1/2 inch apart. And, rows of rutabaga seeds in a vegetable garden need to be planted about two feet apart to allow for easy weeding, thinning, mulching, and eventual harvesting. Another, decorative, way to plant is to broadcast seeds over a cleared bed and rake in.

Rutabaga seeds ordinarily germinate, that is, start growing and poke through the soil, in about two weeks (anywhere from five to 15 days, actually). Count on three-quarters of the seeds to germinate from any packet of 100, and get ready to thin quite a few of the little seedlings as they develop. That is, rutabaga seeds germinate fairly reliably and with some attention can attain apound or more a piece in weight.

The idea is to gradually allow the ripening rutabagas about six inches between plants. That way, if all growing conditions are right – lots of sunshine but no burning heat, even moisture through the growing season, and a few sharp frosts – rutabagas will need all that space.

What about those thinnings? For the first one or two thinnings of sprouted seeds, wait for a good rain and then pluck out the plants by the root, wash the little sprouts and use them to dress salads or soups. Later, when the developing rutabagas reach two inches across, thin the bulbs as a mini-vegetable to roast or mash.

Finally, when the ruddy rutabagas have reached about six inches across, pull them up to harvest. Once cleaned and properly prepared and stored, rutabagas can remain “resting” for months and stay fresh.

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