Types of Rutabaga

With nearly a dozen rutabaga types on offer from breeders and growers, the Laurentian rutabaga usually comes out on top for ease of growing.

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By: Nan Chase

Botanical Name: Brassica napus var. napobrassica

Rutabaga is an old-fashioned plant, well known and loved for its delicious, usually golden, flesh and for its ability to grow just right in cold climates. Rutabaga is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, and so the heirloom varieties are joined by new hybrids and by some rutabaga-like vegetables from other countries. Let’s look at some of the main types.

Purple top. That’s the common kind of rutabaga, and the name says it all. Most of this round type of rutabaga grows underground and is colored gold or yellow. But the upper collar, the inch or so that bulges out of the ground and is topped by leafy greens, carries a deep purple mantle. In the olden days, say, before 1850, the common purple top was known as Purple Top Yellow. Later, by the 1920s, an American Purple Top Yellow was developed and placed into wide distribution. Expect crisp, finely-textured flesh that’s mild in flavor.

A Canadian variation of the American Purple Top is the popular Laurentian rutabaga, with flesh that’s described as “creamy.” Somewhat more elongated or oval than typical round rutabaga types like Laurentian and American Purple Top Yellow is the Lithuanian rutabaga known asNadmorska.

Here are some named varieties of rutabagas: Joan (fairly disease resistant), Helenor (good yields), Long Island Improved (small taproot with large bulb), and Sweet Russian (highly frost tolerant). The rutabaga named Pike can be left longer out in the field than some other varieties.

In addition, the rutabagas known as Macombers have white flesh rather than the usual gold or yellow. Sometimes Macombers are referred to as turnips, sometimes as rutabagas. Try them and see. There is no purple top on Macombers. Instead the top few inches have a bright, fresh green tint.

There are several interesting heirloom rutabagas in addition to Laurentian. The Wilhelmsburger rutabaga came to North America from Germany sometime before 1935. The shape is fairly long, not round, and while the flesh is yellow or gold inside, the skin of this rare garden treat tends to be green, not purple. Its flavor is strong.

The Gilfeather rutabaga is another heirloom of note, sometimes described as halfway between a turnip and a rutabaga. The Gilfeather rutabaga may have its origins with a Vermont farmer named John Gilfeather. Its claim to fame is two-fold: very sweet flesh and delicious greens on top. The Gilfeather strain appears in various seed catalogs, and with its green shoulders makes anice counterpoint to all the purple tops in the garden.

When choosing rutabaga varieties, check catalogs or seed packets for the date to maturity; that can range from about 80 to nearly 120 days – with 90 to 95 days most common. Be sure to calculate whether your growing season is long enough for the varieties you choose.

Organic rutabaga seed is widely available. See catalogs for detailed information.

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