Garden Notes: Kohlrabi, ‘the mongrel of vegetables,’ very practical

The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening reads, “It has been called the mongrel of the vegetable kingdom, because it is like a turnip growing on a cabbage root.”

Kohlrabi is described as tasting like a turnip, or celery or broccoli, or radish or cabbage. You get the idea.

Kohlrabi literally came over on the boat, with seeds sewn into men’s hatbands or the hems of dresses worn by immigrant women determined to make new gardens in America. It’s a very practical vegetable. It is a cool season crop, so you can plant kohlrabi early this spring and again in the fall.

If you like kohlrabi, it would be hard not to plant some in spring, but the best of the two crops will actually be the fall crop because it has the benefit of maturing in cool weather. And kohlrabi is tough! We had kohlrabi still going strong at Thanksgiving.

I’ve read some articles that say the kohlrabi root is edible, but I think that’s taking it to an extreme. You can already eat the bulb and the leaves. You can serve kohlrabi leaves in a crisp salad or cook them like spinach. Its flavor is “mild and delicately sweet, its texture crisp and moist” according to the Vegetarians in Paradise website.

Our friend, Joe, plants a lot of kohlrabi seeds each year and gives us starts. A few years ago, he allowed some of his kohlrabi to bolt so he could collect seeds. He planted them the following year and grew a good crop. But he said it’s hard to leave perfectly delicious kohlrabi go to seed. Now he eats the kohlrabi he grows and buys “incredibly inexpensive” seed at the feed mill.

If you’d like to experiment with the mongrel, you can plant purple, green or white. (They’re all white inside.) In good loose soil, dig a row just about 1/2-inch deep and try to plant the kohlrabi seeds two inches apart. Then cover the seeds with the 1/2-inch of soil you displaced. Thin the seedlings when they have about five leaves. Sow every two weeks until the temperature hits 75 degrees.

Kohlrabi is ready to pick in 45 to 50 days. Opinions differ about the optimum size of the kohlrabi. Chefs seem to prefer the golfball size, while Joe and others wait for a tennis-ball diameter. I’ve seen softball-size kohlrabi in the bins at some of the Amish farm markets. One of the ladies told me she uses it in soups.

Kohlrabi is a cool weather crop, so when daytime temperatures drop below 75, start planting again. You can do this until the middle of September or when the average killing frost is about six weeks away.

Coming up

* Penn State Master Gardeners: Site preparation, Flower and Vegetable Gardening, 6 to 8 p.m. March 25, April 1 and 8, Altoona Area Junior High School, $20 per adult.

* “Genetic Roulette,” a film on food labeling, 6:30 p.m. March 26, C4C, 793 Monastery Road, Hollidaysburg.

Contact Teresa Futrick by e-mail at