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‘Space cabbage’ is fun vegetable to grow

by Peter Sutter | August 13, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

As I am writing this, it is 98 degrees outside and the garden plants just look hot. It is important to give them plenty of water when the weather is hot like this. One thing you have to be careful of is thinking you don't have to water because it is "supposed to rain" later or the next day. This can be very stressful on the plants, so go ahead and water them, then if it does rain later they will just get a little extra treat.

I hope you have not let the hot weather discourage you out of planting your fall crops -- it will cool down, it always does. One cool season crop you may not have thought about planting is kohlrabi.

Kohlrabi is one of those fun vegetables to grow because it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Kohlrabi is a round vegetable that sets on top of the ground with leafy projections. Sometimes called "space cabbage," kohlrabi is German for "cabbage turnip." Kohlrabi was virtually unknown outside Northern Europe and Kashmir until the last few decades. A thoroughly modern vegetable, historians think kohlrabi was developed in Northern Europe about 500 years ago most likely by selecting from a type of cabbage with a thick heart.

Kohlrabi is not a root crop; the edible part of the plant is a swollen portion of the stem growing above the soil. It has the flavor of tender broccoli stems, but with a crisp texture that has earned it the nickname of "vegetable apple," though it does require peeling unless it is very young. Some people say purple varieties taste sweeter, but bringing out kohlrabi's best flavor is largely a matter of good soil fertility, consistent moisture and warm days and cool nights. In either purple or green, garden-fresh kohlrabi has the same unique tenderness found in homegrown broccoli.

The round bulbs can be steamed, stuffed or stir-fried; added to soups; or sliced and baked. Raw kohlrabi "chips" (my favorite) are crisp, sweet and mildly tangy, making them sensational with vegetable dips, or in salads and slaws. And don't forget the young greens, they make tasty, nutritious additions to salads and stir-fries.

Plant kohlrabi in full sun. I like to sow kohlrabi seed ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart, then thin successful seedlings from 5-8 inches apart. Thinned seedlings can be transplanted to another part of the garden or put in your salad. Space rows about 18 inches apart. You want to avoid having the bulbs form in hot weather, which can make them woody. Keep soil evenly moist for quick growth.

Kohlrabi that goes without water will also become woody. Prepare planting beds with aged compost. You can side dress kohlrabi with aged compost at mid-season, although I rarely find it necessary because it grows so fast.

Kohlrabi is ready for harvest when stems reach 2-3 inches in diameter. Fall-grown kohlrabi is easier than spring grown. In fact, the plants will tolerate temperatures to 10 degrees, so you can harvest at a more leisurely pace than in the spring when you are in a race against the heat.

You're bound to cook up plenty of ways to enjoy your harvest. Both the bulbs and leaves are extremely versatile. But if you find you just cannot use all your kohlrabi at harvest time, it's no big deal. Simply trim off the leaves and stems, wrap the bulbs in plastic and store them in your refrigerator or a root cellar for several months. Pretty cool, huh?

Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener Program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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