Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Meet the "Not So Popular" Spring Crops

We all have our garden favorites.  Rutabagas and kohlrabi never seem to make the list.  While I wouldn't go hog wild in planting these, maybe you could try  and squeeze a few of the lesser known cool season crops in some corner of the garden.  I'm a firm believer that all it takes is the right recipe and then you'll be friends for life.

So let me introduce you to some cool season crops that get very little mention or attention in the garden spotlight.  Considering their nutritional value and storage potential they are important for those trying to grow year round and be self-reliant.


Kohlrabi is a beautiful plant and unique.  It looks like a small round green or violet space ship resting on the garden bed among frilly, broccoli-like leaves.  The green or violet bulb is actually a swollen stem. It's taste is mild, sweeter than a turnip, and similar to the heart of a cabbage.  Kohlrabi is in the Brassica Oleracea family.  It is in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and kale; therefore it needs similar growing conditions as these crops. The are quick growing and ready to harvest in 55-65 days.  Like all Brassicas it is an anti-cancer veggie. It's leaves and bulb have Vitamin C & A, potassium and fiber.


  • Kohlrabi likes soil rich in organic matter
  • Sow in early spring as soon as soil can be worked or as a fall crop
  • They can tolerant a frost and temperatures down to 20 degrees but protect during a hard frost.
  • I usually plant around St Patrick's Day which allows them time to be harvested before the heat sets in.
  • Plant 4 / square foot
  • Avoid water stressing kohlrabi.  It has shallow roots and water fluctuations cause the stem to become woody.


  • The most tender and best flavored kohlrabi are harvested at a diameter of 2 - 3 inches
  • Leaves can be harvested when young and used like cabbage.  Your goats and chickens will also love the leaves if you choose not to harvest them.
  • Pull the bulb up and trim off root and leaves
  • To eat peel the outer skin off.  
  • They can be eaten raw and are a crisp treat in your favorite dip or cooked in dishes with other root crops.
  • They store 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator 

Pest and Disease

  • They are victims of the same pests as cabbage
  • Cabbage loppers can be controlled with spinosad or Neem oil or just pick them off
  • These are very easy to grow as long as you plant them in the proper season
  • Row covers are helpful if you have problems with cabbage loppers 



I think the purple varieties are the most stunning. Try planting the white and purple varieties in a staggered pattern for a beautiful presentation.
  • Purple Vienna
  • White Vienna

Seed Statistics and Seed Saving

  • Seeds store well for 4-5 years
  • Kohlrabi is biennial and those for seed saving are planted in the fall.  The plants are dug up after a frost.  Remove the leaves and trim the root to 4-6 inches.  Store in damp sand or sawdust. Replant the best roots in the spring for seed production.
  • If you have mild winters and protection you can over winter kohlrabi for seed.

Seed Saving in the Brassica Family

  • All members of the B. oleracea will cross pollinate that includes broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts.
  • The have perfect flowers containing both male and female parts but require insects for pollination
  • They are self-incompatible meaning they need the pollen from another plant to be carried by native pollinators and bees to produce seed.
  • In this family it is always wise to save seeds from a variety of plants
  • Many are biennials needed 2 years to produce seed

Rutabagas Brassica napus

Rutabagas are also known as Swede turnips although they are not in the same family as turnips.  They have white or yellow flesh.  There are 3 subspecies:  those grown for their roots, those grown for leaves (Siberian Kale), and rape varieties grown for seed oil. The are higher in nutrition than turnips being high in vitamin A and C, iron, and fiber.


  • If summer temperatures exceed 75 they are unhappy.  I plant them as a fall crop.
  • Direct seed in soil with organic matter
  •  Even moisture is important
  • 4/ square foot
  • Plants are frost tolerant and can be mulched well through winter or put under a low tunnel
  • Mature in 90-100 days  


  • Frosts sweeten up the roots by increasing the sugars
  • Dig up the roots after a few frosts and trim the tops to 2 "
  • The can keep for 2-4 months at 32 degrees and with humidity
  • They store fine in the fridge, or in a root cellar in damp sand
  • They can be cooked and mashed with potatoes,  roasted, or added to soups with carrots and other root crops.  They are very good roasted with other root crops.
Joan rutabagas



  • Joan and Magres

Turnips (Brassica rapa)

Turnips seem to be enjoyed by both European and Asian cultures.  It is used for both it's leaves and roots. The mustard like leaves are slightly hairy. Tiny white turnips are increasing in popularity and can be eaten raw.  The larger roots are used as storage crops.  There are various shapes and colors.


  • The turnips are best grown as early spring or fall crops.
  •  A fall crop will produce a better tasting crop with frosts sweetening the roots.
  • Plant 2 months before first frost date
  • Evenly moist soil produces fast growth and better flavor
  • The exposed top of the root will develop color of green or purple


  • Harvest greens when young
  • Pull, trim tops to two inches and store in a cool humid place
  • Smaller bulbs of 2-3" will be tenderer  
  • The small radish size turnips can be eaten raw in salads 
  • The larger turnips are good roasted or used in stews and soups


  • Purple Top for larger root
  • Hakurei for small white turnips
  • Golden Ball

Broccoli Rabe or Raab

If you are expecting a broccoli head you will be disappointed.This veggie is actually in the turnip family.  It is grown for its leaves and unopened flower stocks. It is a newcomer in American gardens but an Italian favorite.

Sprouting broccoli and broccoli raab


  • Direct seed in early spring or late summer for a fall crop
  • Since this is a leafy crop fish emulsion will assist in leaf growth
  • Rather quick growing so do not water stress


  • Leaves can be harvested as cut and come again lettuce cutting the outer leaves as needed
  •  Harvest when flower buds first appear because it bolts quickly. 
  • Young plants are entirely edible but older plants get tough
  • The leafy greens can be cooked as other greens and mixed with other greens



A crisp addition to salads and veggie trays, radishes come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  There are small red, white, pink or purple varieties. And the daikon radish which can grow to more than 20" long.

  • Radishes can be seeded directly in the garden when soil temps are 40 degrees
  • If grown in warm weather they will be hot and pithy.
  • It's best to grow them quickly in cool weather so maintain even moisture.
  • A great early spring and fall crop.
  • Radishes are often planted around cucumbers and squash and allowed to go to seed to deter the cucumber beetle
  • Since they mature quickly you can succession plant through the cool seasons

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a beautiful 3' plant with baby cabbages growing along the stem. They are not technically  baby cabbages.  They are a bud growing in the axils of each leaf. They are a slow growing crop needing a long season.  The baby cabbages or edible heads develop the first year and the flower and seed the second year.  They are in the same family and cross pollinate with cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and collards.


  • No hot summers for Brussels sprouts.  Give them cool weather, frosts, and even light snows to develop.
  • Warm weather will cause the sprouts to open and taste poor
  • A good three months is needed to reach maturity.  I start them indoors in August and plant out in fall or buy transplants
  • Add a dry organic fertilizer to the planting hole 
  • Will tolerate shade
  • Fertile soil with lots of organic matter and even moisture are necessary are necessary to maintain growth.
  • While small plant a crop in between such a peas for pea tendrils


  • Sprouts mature from the bottom up
  • Harvest when they are the size of large marble and tightly closed
  • Open sprouts become bitter and large sprouts will split
  • Remove the leaf below the sprout and twist the sprout off 
  • Brussels sprouts will store for 4-6 weeks in 32 degrees with 80-90% humidity.
  • Check for rot frequently in stored crops

Pest and Disease

  • The same pest and disease problems as cabbage.
  • If planted in the right season few problems.


  • There are green and red varieties
  • Rubine is a red heirloom with smaller yields but good flavor
  • Bubbles F1 tolerates heat better
  • Long Island Improved OP


Want a challenge?  Plant celery.  It needs a long growing season but is both sensitive to heat and cold.  
Celery inter-planted with Marigolds.


  • Start celery indoors 10 weeks before last frost
  • Seeds are very small so thin to healthiest plants in planting trays
  • Celery needs only morning sun and prefers shade in the afternoon
  • Temperatures must be above 50 degrees before you plant it out in the garden
  • It will not tolerate drought but wants plenty of moisture 
  • Celery needs a rich fertile soil.  Add plenty of organic matter and a dry fertilizer.  It also likes fish emulsion as it gets established.


To blanch celery mound dirt around base a few weeks before harvest. It is not necessary but more for cosmetic appearance



Utah Improved

Soil Preparation for all Spring Crops

I prepare all my bed in the fall so when spring arrives they are ready to plant.  A prepared bed has plenty of compost incorporated in the soil.  Come spring mix a dry organic fertilizer into the bed and put in planting holes of transplants.  Use fish emulsion throughout growing season for leafy crops.  Even moisture is essential for all crops.


  1. Nice list and great post! I have to say, kohlrabi is one of my favorites for many reasons. They are easy, tasty, hardy, and hold a lot of nostalgia for me (grandma grew them). I have noticed they are gaining popularity, slowly and surely! :)