Marianne CannonHow to grow Swedes, or rutabaga: a most dangerous vegetable

Did you know that a Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin in 1620, found this vegetable growing wild in Sweden? So yes, Swedes do come from Sweden, including Swede the vegetable. Another interesting fact about this vegetable is it doesn’t seem to have a long history, well unless you consider dating back to the1600s not long, which it isn’t compared to some vegetables. Brassica napus variety (var.) napobrassica, is called rutabaga in the USA, but never referred to as turnip. Rutabaga is a corruption of the Swedish for turnip-cabbage.

Swede or rutabaga. Photo pin add

Swede or rutabaga. Photo pin add

Turnip Photo the

Turnip Photo the


Turnips and swedes are both members of the cabbage family and are closely related to each other – so close that it’s not surprising that their names are often confused. For instance, swedes are sometimes called Swedish turnips or swede-turnips. How do you tell the difference between Turnips and Swedes? For one, turnips are usually smaller than Swedes, about the size of a golf ball, with creamy white, smooth skin. Some turnips have a smooth, silky skin that’s coloured white, with a purple or reddish top. The flesh is white and has a peppery taste.

Swedes are a lot bigger, roughly the size of a shoe. Its rough skin is creamy white and partly purple, with a distinctive ‘collar’-that shows the multiple leaf scars. The Swede also has a hint of yellow-orange inside the actual vegetable.

Swede InvitationAdvanta

Swedes showing distinctive leaf-scar collar


Here’s a bit of trivia for you from a very recent article in the UK Telegraph reporting on a poll on home accidents in the kitchen.

A survey found two-thirds of injuries in the kitchen come from preparing fresh vegetables like squash and turnip that are too difficult to cut. Almost a quarter said pumpkins were the toughest vegetable to skin and chop while a fifth said swedes were the most dangerous. Two in five participants said they had injured themselves trying to imitate TV chefs when slicing vegetables, the research found.
So it came as no surprise that root foods had topped a poll of the most dangerous vegetables. Don’t let that deter you!

Haggis and neeps Photo Kim Traynor

Haggis and neeps Photo Kim Traynor


Another surprise is that the Swede vegetable is a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. So how it came to be growing in the wild in Sweden is anybody’s guess. If you were a lover if haggis you might already know that the Scottish call it “neeps” and serve it with haggis. Swede us a full flavoured veggie with a savoury aftertaste. Under-rated as a vegetable, its smooth and creamy texture is a welcome surprise in your cooking.


How and when to grow Swede and Rutabaga

You might’ve guessed that the Swede is a winter vegetable. In Australia you can sow Swedes from February until November it temperate and cool districts, April until August in arid zones, and only May to July in sub-tropical and tropical areas. You might find some garden books suggesting not to sow Swedes at these times, but those books are probably written for northern hemisphere gardens. Seed suppliers also recommend the dates I’ve given.

Rutabaga casserole, with tuna and beetroot Photo Tiia Monto

Rutabaga casserole, with tuna and beetroot Photo Tiia Monto


Turnips are easy to grow but swedes are easier. Sow the seeds of Swedes into any prepared soil, they’ll even grow in heavy soil as long as the water drains away fairly quickly. As with carrots, don’t put in fresh compost or manures when you sow Swede seeds, or you’ll get the usual forking or hairy Swedes! Swedes need good levels of trace elements, so add a dusting of these either from a packet, or as a seaweed spray if your soil is poor or sandy. Without enough trace elements, your Swedes might be tasteless, bitter and brown inside.
TIP: Swedes resent transplanting, just like carrots, parsnips and turnips. Sow the seeds directly into the veggie bed.

Neeps near Grangemill UK. Photo by Dan

Neeps near Grangemill UK. Photo by Dan

Your Swedes will be ready in three to four months after planting. But you can pick them at whatever size you like – small is good, as is larger. It doesn’t matter. In cold areas, Swedes are best left in the ground and pulled out as you need them. They grow on top of, not under, the ground. Otherwise, pick them and store them as you would potatoes.

Yates Seeds 'Champion Purple Top'

Where do you get Swede seed? In Australia from Diggers Club, Yates Seeds, Eden Seeds; New Zealand from King Seeds; South Africa from Organic Seeds; UK from Unwins Seeds or Suttons Seeds. For rutabaga seed in the USA, try Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Why is it good for you? 1/2 cup cooked swede is a serve, and is a good source of vitamin C and fibre, folate and potassium. Swedes are quite filling but are low in kilojoules, with only 85kJ per 100g (2/3 cup).


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Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

10 thoughts on “How to grow Swedes, or rutabaga: a most dangerous vegetable

  1. Swede, carrot and red lentils make a lovely soup which my Mum called Golden Soup for its lovely rich colour, tastes great too.

  2. I love this veggie, and have ever since I was a child a million years ago.
    It is a staple, along with turnips, parsnips, carrots and potatoes whenever roasted veg. is in the meal. My favorite however is to boil them with the potatoes and then mash them with a little butter and milk. It cuts down on the calories and starch of the potatoes while adding wonderful flavour to a side dish. I also do this with carrots and parsnips, depending on what else I am making that day. Like I said, I love it.

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