Garden Lifestyle

How to Grow an Odd-looking Turnip

Kohlrabi may be one of the strangest vegetables you’d like to grow. The above ground bulb looks a little like a vegetable from outer space.

Kohlrabi is like a turnip, but the bulb grows above ground. 
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

The first time I saw kohlrabi growing in the vegetable garden, I had to look twice. This odd-looking member of the turnip family (Brassica caulorapa), grows above the ground and has leaves that stand straight up and out.

Because of its weird looks, gardeners may avoid planting kohlrabi. But its fresh taste, a combination of mild broccoli and celery root, will have you planting more the next time around.

While kohlrabi is typically grown as a cool-season spring crop, now’s the time to get ready to plant for a fall harvest. Look for the varieties that have a short number of days to maturity, like 40 days or so. Direct sow seeds in the garden or buy transplants from the garden center.

Like other members of the Brassica family, kohlrabi prefers a rich, loamy soil that drains well. If the vegetable garden was amended in spring, it shouldn’t need additional organic matter. Just loosen the soil and get ready to plant. 

Plant so each kohlrabi has about 4-6 inches of room to grow. For the most tender and tastiest kohlrabi bulbs, focus on rapid growth. Sidedress with compost, well-aged manure or a well-balanced dry fertilizer. 

Cultivate lightly, if needed, and avoid damaging the delicate roots that spread just beneath the soil surface. Add a thick layer of organic mulch (like straw) when plants are several inches tall.

Keep the soil moderately moist and don’t let the soil dry out or the bulbs will become tough instead of tender and sweet. Carefully dig up plants while they’re still young and tender – about golf-ball size. Larger bulbs tend to get stringy and less flavorful.

To use in cooking, peel the bulbs and eat raw in a salad or leave the skin on and cook into soups, stews and stir-fry meals. Remember to cook the leaves, too. They can be used like collard greens as a tasty side dish. 

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