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Q: When do I harvest rutabaga?

Q:  When do I harvest rutabaga? I am concerned about the cold temperatures coming and did not want it to get destroyed before I get a chance to eat it.

A: Rutabaga is a cool season vegetable, which means it grows best in the winter in Florida. Rutabaga will withstand frosts and mildly freezing temperatures so there should be no problem for the next few days. For the most part, it is found primarily in home gardens here in Florida with no large commercial growers currently producing it.

Rutabagas require a longer growing season (about 90 days) than do turnips so expect to harvest them 3 months after planting. Rutabagas are often confused with turnips but turnip leaves are light green, thin, and hairy whereas rutabaga leaves are bluish green and smooth like cabbage. The leaves of rutabaga are edible but I’ve been told they are not pleasant. The flesh of turnips is white but rutabaga flesh has a yellow tint. Turnips have no neck or elongated area where the leaves attach to the root.  Rutabagas have a slightly elongated neck area.

If you grow rutabagas from seed be sure to space them 3-4 inches apart in 30-inch rows. The main varieties are ‘American Purple Top,’ ‘Macomber,’ ‘Purple Top Yellow’, ‘Long Island Improved,’ ‘Sweet Russian,’ ‘Laurential,’ and ‘Zwaan’s Neckless Purple Top.’