The rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica), a member of the Cruciferae (mustard) family, is generally considered a cross between wild cabbage and a turnip, but some believe it evolved on its own through cultivation just a few hundred years ago. Often called yellow turnips, table turnips, or swedes, these root vegetables feature large, spherical roots, white or yellow flesh, and smooth, bluish-green leaves resembling collards.
Plants are popular for human and livestock consumption, as both the roots and leaves are edible. Rutabaga roots, generally cooked and eaten as a vegetable, are similar in taste to turnips, but sweeter.
Bagas are believed to have originated in Russia or Scandinavia in the late Middle Ages. Today, the cool-season hardy crop is primarily grown in the United States, northern Europe, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
References: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Michigan State University Extension, Purdue University, University of Georgia Extension, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
While both the fleshy root and leaves can be eaten, rutabaga roots are most popular with consumers. The rutabaga’s globe-shaped root is more elongated than that of turnip. Many varieties showcase a purple crown or reddish-purple shoulders. The internal flesh ranges in color from white to yellow, depending on variety. Common varieties include Altasweet, American Purple Top, Improved Long Island, Laurentian, Macomber, Pike, Ruta-Bits, and Winton
References: New England Vegetable Management Guide, North Carolina State Extension, University of Illinois Extension, USDA, Washington State University Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
Cabbage maggots are a major threat to all cruciferous crops, including turnips and rutabagas. After adult flies lay eggs in the soil near plants in the spring, the maggots hatch, and burrow into the roots. Each year, three generations of the white and legless maggots are born. As they feed, larvae decimate the root system. Signs of damage include plant wilting, yellowing of outer leaves, and eventually plant collapse.
Cabbage and turnip aphids drink sap from plants, infecting them with turnip mosaic virus. These pests curb plant growth and damage the leaves. Imported cabbage worms and cabbage loopers can severely damage rutabaga leaves, making the greens unmarketable. Minor infestations, however, will not impact plant roots.
Other insects of concern include flea beetles, leafminers, and wireworms.
Black rot, one of the most destructive diseases to cruciferous crops, can lead to major losses in rutabagas and turnips. Carried on the seed, the bacteria can infect and destroy young seedlings. Plants can also be infected during the season, resulting in a yellow triangle on the leaf edge, eventually turning veins black. The disease can also spread to the root system.
Clubroot is a soil disease causing swelling of the roots. The fungus, which can live in the soil for years, causes infected roots to enlarge and form a club-like knot, eventually killing the plant. Scab, a soilborne disease, is caused by the same organism as potato scab but can also attack rutabagas and turnips. The disease causes round lesions with a recessed center on plant roots. Most common in dry conditions, irrigation can significantly diminish this disease.
Downy mildew often emerges during cool, damp weather in the fall. Infected plants develop small, yellow spots on the upper leaf surfaces with a white, cotton-like mildew on the underside. Heavy infestation results in a purple, fuzzy appearance of rutabaga leaves.
Other diseases that can affect rutabagas include anthracnose, canker, damping-off, leaf or white spot, mosaic viruses, Rhizoctonia rot, root knot, white blister, and white rust.
References: Michigan State University Extension, New England Vegetable Management Guide, Oregon State University, University of Illinois Extension, University of Massachusetts Amherst.