The rutabaga is a cool, long-season crop. It performs best when planted in the summer for a fall crop. Sow seed at a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch from June 15 to July 15 in central Iowa. Rows should be spaced 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart. After germination, thin to 6 to 8 inches between plants.
The best variety for the midwest is 'American Purple Top'. The large roots have a purple-skinned top. The remainder of the root is light yellow. The flesh is also yellow.
Crusting of the soil surface and dry summer weather may inhibit germination. Lightly mulch the seeded row with sawdust, dried lawn clippings, or similar materials to prevent crusting of the soil surface. Also, the water the rows in dry weather to promote germination.
The rutabaga may be harvested when the roots reach 2 or 3 inches in diameter. The foliage may also be harvested for greens. Rutabagas require approximately 90 to 95 days from planting until harvest. A 10-foot row should produce 8 to 10 pounds of rutabagas. Prior to storage, 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.
This article originally appeared in the June 19, 1991 issue, p. 110.