Growing Kohlrabi: The Forgotten Vegetable
Learn why kohlrabi — a sister to the cabbage — is oddly unique and why growing kohlrabi is a good idea.
Growing kohlrabi means growing a crisp, crunchy and cruciferous garden treat.
K is for kohlrabi – a sister to the cabbage. Growing kohlrabi means growing a crisp, crunchy and cruciferous garden treat. This vegetable’s shape resembles the original Russian Sputnik, an early spacecraft. No wonder Edward C. Smith, in his Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, says, “Kohlrabi’s unique growth habit makes the garden look like a moon landing site.” Sometimes called an aboveground turnip, kohlrabi’s stem, rather than the root, is swollen, and the leaves attach directly to the top of the bulbous stem like spokes. Gardeners unfamiliar with this vegetable often wonder which end is up and which end to eat.
This curious member of the Brassica genus and the Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae) family dates back to 1554 in Italy, according to edible plant historian E. Lewis Sturtevant. Its name is a combination of the German words for cabbage and turnip. Despite its long history, kohlrabi has never quite caught on in the United States. On the other hand, northern Europeans have long appreciated this vegetable. Kohlrabi is popular in Japan, China and Southeast Asia.
Variations on a theme
Kohlrabi is pretty in purple, but most kohlrabi grown in the United States is green with a white interior. Renee Shepherd, owner of Renee’s Garden Seeds in Felton, California, sells purple Kolibri and green Kongo varieties as a “Crispy Colors Duo” mix. She plants both in a mosaic pattern in her garden and stands back to enjoy visitors’ reactions. She believes kohlrabi is ideal for children’s gardens because of its unique flying saucer shape, its great color pattern, and its wonderful taste when peeled and eaten fresh. “It’s fun to interplant a bed of green kohlrabi with a purple variety laid out in the shape of a child’s first name,” Shepherd says.
Last summer we grew Kossak, a variety that reached a large size without getting woody. According to Steve Bellavia, vegetable researcher at Johnny’s Seeds in Winslow, Maine, Kossack was bred for storage. Bellavia put several bulbs of Kossack on a shelf in his root cellar this fall. “They’ll last a long time if you have cool, high-humidity conditions,” he says. “I have an old dirt floor in my cellar so the temperatures are cool and the humidity is high. In the refrigerator they would be fine, too.”
Iowa gardener and garden photographer David Cavagnaro also stores kohlrabi in a root cellar, in shallow trays of soil.
Bellavia favors Winner, a midseason variety that is ready for harvest in 45 days and holds well in the field without splitting, for fresh eating. “Eder will grow faster, and Korridor has organic seeds, but Winner tastes better,” he says.
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