Image by Johnathan Nightingale
By Nikki Phipps
(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)
Rutabaga, which is a cross between cabbage and turnip, is a cool-season crop. Since it is harvested during fall, rutabaga makes a great crop for winter storage. In addition to meeting all the necessary growth requirements, preserving rutabagas requires proper harvesting and storing.
When and How to Harvest Rutabagas
Rutabaga plants require 90-110 days to mature. They need at least four weeks longer to mature than turnips do. Rutabagas can usually be pulled from the ground quite easily but care should still be taken not to bruise them in any way to avoid issues with rotting later.
Although rutabagas can be harvested once the root crops have reached about 2-3 inches in diameter, it’s usually better to wait a little longer to harvest rutabagas. Larger roots (about 4-5 inch in diameter) are more mild and tender.
In addition, those that have been exposed to light frosts can actually be sweeter tasting. To extend the harvest season and protect the crops from heavier frosts, a thick layer of straw can be added.
Unused rutabagas need to be stored immediately following harvesting. Trim off foliage to about an inch of the crown. Wipe the roots clean but avoid getting them wet, as this can lead to mildew and rotting.
Cooling is one of the most important factors when preserving rutabagas. For best results, cool them as soon as possible. Cooling reduces root respiration and water loss. It can also lower the risk of storage burn.
In some cases, rutabagas can be given a wax bath, dipping them in warm wax, to prevent moisture loss. Freshly harvested crops should be cooled as close to 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) as possible. In addition, they require high relative humidity. Given suitable conditions, temperatures of 32-35 degrees F and relative humidity at or around 90-95 percent, rutabaga storage can last anywhere from one to four months.
Rutabagas store well in the refrigerator, as this can often provide the most optimal temperature and humidity conditions. They can also be stored in a root cellar, provided the temperature and humidity meets the required needs of rutabagas.