I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about rutabagas. 

All I know is that mixed with apples and a crumble on top, they are a tasty side dish at Thanksgiving dinners. Or am I thinking about turnips?

Ah well, let’s learn about rutabagas from our friend Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming.

What are Rutabagas?

Rutabagas are reliable root veggies in the brassica family. 

Rutabagas are among the hardiest of vegetables and can be left growing (or at least not dying) until all other crops have been harvested.

The rising interest in local, sustainable, healthy food means that more people are seeking out this crop (along with turnips, etc.).

It’s their sustainability and hardiness is that intrigues me about them.


Rutabagas are Brassica napus, closely related to the main brassica crops.

Botanically, rutabagas are part swollen taproot, part swollen stem (the upper part of the vegetable which forms the neck), which is the distinguishing feature of rutabagas.

The taproot has secondary roots.

Rutabagas are mostly yellow-fleshed with tan and reddish purplish skin, although there are white-fleshed varieties.

They all have blue-green waxy leaves.

Generally, rutabagas are grown large for storage.

They are a good source of fibre and vitamins A and C, in fact, they have twice as many nutrients as white turnips.

The leaves of young rutabagas are tasty and nutritious.


  • 95 days to maturity (DTM)
  • Has a deep crown and cream bottom
  • Has a uniform 5-6” root
  • Pale yellow flesh


  • 90 DTM
  • Similar looking to Laurentian
  • Shorter, wider leaves that grow to 8” across


  • Used for early production from transplants in cell plugs in Ireland and the UK
  • Produces an attractive round root shape
  • Fine-grained, tasty yellow flesh
  • Tolerant to bolting


  • 85 DTM
  • Sold as a turnip, but is a white rutabaga
  • Sweeter and later to mature than turnips
  • Does not become woody even at softball size
  • Flavour improves after frost

Crop Requirements

The keys to growing mild, sweet-tasting roots include cool temperatures, sufficient irrigation, and no competition from weeds or overcrowding.

Excess nitrogen will cause too much top growth at the expense of good roots and may cause cracking of the roots in hot weather. 

Boron deficiency causes the middle of the roots to turn brown.

Fall crops sown too early in the summer can develop woody roots.

Root crops do best in loose fertile soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.2.

Time your planting so that the roots develop in cool weather, 68°F (20°C) max. 

The optimal range is 59 to 95°F (15 to 35°C) when germination only takes one to three days.

At the optimal temperature of 77°F (25° C), 100% of the seedlings which emerge are normal. 

Sowing Rutabagas

Rutabagas are sown in the hoophouse in late summer for winter storage. 

They are typically started in the middle of July or early August, allowing 90 to 100 growing days before a hard freeze. 

How much seed you are planting will determine the  necessary spacing  for sowing, for example:

If planting one pound of rutabagas per acre, sow 6 seeds/ft in rows 24” apart.

If planting 1 1/2 to 2 lb per acre sow in rows 32-36” apart, at 5 cm in-row spacing.

Pam plants her crops in four rows across in 4 ft beds. 

When flea beetles and grasshoppers are a problem, they sow under row covers.


Early thinning is important for well-developed roots. 

Rutabagas should be thinned to 4” when one inch tall. Then at 2 to 3” tall they should be thinned to 10”.

If not well thinned, they will grow in odd shapes and be small. 

Many common weeds are in the Brassica genus and could harbor pests and diseases that could attack the crop, so use crop rotations, stale seedbeds, and clean cultivation to remove the weeds

Pests and Diseases

Aphids, flea beetles, cabbage worms, and grasshoppers can all be a problem.

Rutabagas have a particular problem with aphids.

Row covers and the planting of insectaries (flowers to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs) can help avoid the problem.

For more information, check out Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture Turnips and Rutabagas Production Guide. 

The main diseases of rutabagas are clubroot, downy mildew, powdery mildew, rhizoctonia rot, bacterial scab, and blackleg. 

All except scab and downy mildew are fungal diseases. 

Downy mildew is a water mold.

Organic methods of prevention are crop rotations and field sanitation (plowing in residues promptly, removing weeds).

Clubroot fungus is able to live in the soil for up to 10 years, so it is hard to eliminate. Avoid brassica crops in an infected field for 10 years and be vigilant about eliminating brassica weeds.


Harvesting Rutabagas

Rutabagas are ready to harvest from mid-October if planted in mid-July or early August.

For manual harvest, loosen the roots with a digging fork as needed, then pull. 

Trim tops and tails in the field.

All foliage should be removed for successful long-term storage. For rutabagas, this means to cut through the neck. 

Next, wash, drain and store your rutabagas.

Cut and damaged roots do not store well, so eat them immediately!

The flavour of rutabagas is pleasantly sweetened by a few touches of frost. 

Post-harvest and Storage

Prompt washing before the soil dries on the roots will make them easier to clean.

Storage in perforated plastic bags under refrigeration works well. 

Rutabagas can store for as much as six months, and do best stored above 95% humidity. 

They store well without waxing so feel free to skip this unnecessary step. 

Season Extension/Overwintering

Rutabagas can be stored in the ground. Mulch over them with loose straw once the temperature drops near 20°F (-7°C).

If you don’t manage to eat all the roots before spring, they will resprout and you can have an ‘early spring bite’ of greens.

Bottom Line

Rutabagas are a great crop to keep in your storage all winter long. They would make an excellent addition to your fall CSA boxes, farmstand, and even at the farmer’s market.

I know I always prefer getting rutabagas from the farmstand come October (Canadian Thanksgiving time) rather than the weird wax-covered ones from the grocery store.

They have more taste and are much easier to cut!

Anyone interested in a more sustainable way of living and eating your own homegrown food all year long should give rutabagas a try. I know we will this year!

Do you grow rutabagas over winter? Let us know in the comments below.

Stay Local,

Kathy & Jon

your friendly neighbourhood growers


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