Each year since the potager began, I’ve picked a crop for testing and evaluation. One year it was peas, another it was spinach, another beets. I find as many varieties as I can and have space to grow, but also keep in mind that to keep costs reasonable only my “usual” seed companies are included to avoid additional shipping costs. This year’s crop is kohlrabi, a member of the brassica family.
Kohlrabi may be unfamiliar to many, but it was a staple in my mother’s garden so I’ve eaten it, and loved it since childhood. “Early White Vienna” was the variety we grew, mainly because that was the only one local stores carried back in those days. It was always sliced and served raw, and was often a substitute for salad when Mother was especially busy.
When I moved to the homestead in southern Indiana, I felt very adventurous when I planted “Purple Vienna” kohlrabi in addition to the white. I actually like it just as well, if not better, and the color makes a nice contrast in the garden beds. It’s only purple on the outside, and white inside. Discovering that kohlrabi is delicious when steamed with a little butter, salt and pepper was exciting as it added another vegetable to our menu rotation, somewhat similar in flavor to turnips. It can also be shredded or chopped to become a “slaw” or fried like cabbage. Just think of it as the member of the cabbage family that it is, and that will give you an idea of the flavor.
Kohlrabi can be planted in spring, either direct seeded once soil temps reach about 50 degrees F, or started indoors for an even earlier crop. I’ve read that it can be planted much earlier, but in the times that I’ve done that (like last year!) the young sprouts (These were about 3″ tall) all froze and turned to mush in that mid-May freeze we experienced. So, my advice is to wait. Some folks have said it dislikes being transplanted, but I haven’t found that to be a problem. I usually plant transplants, and also seed a row at the same time for a succession of crops. It does prefer cool weather, and may become woody and a bit sharp in very hot, dry weather. Keeping it watered helps. Seed again in early August for a fall crop (at least that works here in Zone 5a.) It holds up to frosts and light freezes in the late fall garden much better than in spring for some reason, and like turnips, seems to get a bit sweeter. Long lasting in ground or in cold storage, kohlrabi is a good choice for extending the growing season. I’ve kept them in the refrigerator for 4 months with no apparent change in taste or texture.
Unfortunately, like other members of the brassica family, kohlrabi is a delight to cabbage worms. Some people grow them under netting (I have just used cheap tulle from the fabric store, held down with bricks) or routine spraying with Bt, an organic product that when ingested by caterpillars is deadly. Do be careful not to spray on a breezy day, when it might carry onto flowers that attract good butterflies because Bt does not discriminate between good worms and bad worms.
When I began “collecting” varieties to trial this year I settled on the following:
- “Early White Vienna” because I know I’ll get a crop no matter what. 50 days
- “Early Purple Vienna” because I have lots of seed leftover, and we like it. 60 days
- “Grand Duke,” a hybrid and All-American selection in 1979 that reportedly holds well as the weather warms without getting woody. 50 days
- “Winner” another hybrid said to be even longer lasting over a longer period and still keeps its tender quality and good flavor. 50 days
- “Quickstar” a third hybrid that is slow to bolt and more uniform that some. 50 days
I chose not to grow “Kossack” even though it was available, because it is a hybrid that grows to the size of a bowling ball! I love kohlrabi raw or cooked, but that just seems like too much kohlrabi to deal with for two old folks! It is said to store extremely well in root cellars or refrigerators. And, it can be rough-chopped and used as animal feed. 80 days.
“Korist” (42 days) and Kolibri (43 days) are varieties I’ve grown in the past. Note that they are both earlier than the first two on my list that contain “Early” in their name. That’s what the wonders of plant breeding in creating hybrids can achieve. They are both F1 hybrids that did nicely, but I’d already placed my final veg order, and neither were offered from that company. I should have decided on my trial crop earlier! There are no doubt other varieties on offer, so check your favorite catalog or website and give kohlrabi a try this season. If I ever leave the house to shop, and find any other varieties, I’ll add them to the trials, and I’ll be reporting back on the trial results as the seasons progress.
If you haven’t tried kohlrabi, do give it a try. If you enjoy any other members of the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, aspra-broc, brussel sprouts, rutabaga, etc.) odds are you will like it, too!