Saturday, September 02, 2006

Knobby Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is tasty, nutritious, and easy to grow, but it is definitely an odd member of the vegetable kingdom. For most vegetables we eat the leaves (lettuce, spinach, and kale), the flower buds (artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower), the fruit (squash, tomatoes, eggplant), or the roots (carrots, turnips, beets). Not so with Kohlrabi. Those crisp, sweet, knobby kohlrabies only resemble roots. They are really swollen above ground stems, and that makes them fairly unique among the vegetables we eat.

This versatile vegetable is delicious grated into coleslaw or salad, cut into sticks for dipping in ranch, cubed in soups and casseroles, or simple quartered and steamed. Its taste resembles a mild, sweet, crisp cabbage. It is interesting enough to serve on its own, and subtle enough to mix with other bold or quiet vegetables. While the swollen stems –are the part most often eaten, the leaves are also tasty in soups or stir fries.

Kohlrabi is great news for dieters. Low in carbs, high in fiber, and no fat or cholesterol gives it a place in almost any diet you could possibly be on. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Folate, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source for Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Copper, and Manganese. And a full cup only has 36 calories! Nutritious, tasty, and safe for most diets, who wouldn’t want to grow some of this unusual vegetable for themselves?

This Northern European vegetable was hand selected back in the 1600’s from a certain strain of cabbage that had swollen stems. It is still very popular in Germany, Hungary, and Russia, but around here the response is most commonly, “What’s that?” When you get some going in your garden you simply say: “It is the best kept weight loss secret to come along in four centuries. If you help me weed I just might have a few to share with you.”

Kohlrabi is easy to grow, and will produce nice “bulbs” (or swollen stems) from seed planted either in spring or fall. For a fall crop seeds can be started in six packs right now, as long as you keep them in a cool bright window, or on a shady porch. Young seedlings need protection from the scorching heat. But once they are big enough to plant out in the garden they should do fine, as long as they can get watered regularly. You can also wait and plant Kohlrabi out doors directly in the garden once the weather cools down. It normally takes about 3 months from seed until you can start pulling plants for the table. But winter grown Kohlrabi often takes longer to mature. Once you have Golf ball sized “bulbs” you will want to start harvesting. Except for the varieties that are bred to be gigantic, those over hard ball size will need to be peeled. And once that skin starts toughening up, the peeling is not so easy.

Beauty is only skin deep, they say, and that may be true for Kohlrabi too. You can order seeds for green, white, and purple varieties, in addition to the gigantic ones already mentioned. But the color affects the skin only. All kohlrabi is light ivory-green, crisp, sweet, and delicious on the inside. However, the variety in skin color does liven up the salad and the garden.

Kohlrabi suffers from the same pests as its close relatives, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Those being our very favorites - cabbage worms and aphids. The best part about growing kohlrabi in the winter, is that once the weather cools down and the storms set in, the pest damage comes to a screeching halt. (Except for the dang slugs. But if you catch them snacking on your plants you can easily catch them and trap them in a zip lock bag. We will have more on slugs in a future column.) Mean while you can hand pick those green cabbage worms whenever you see that they have been munching holes in your kohlrabi leaves.

Kohlrabi does not need any special care, and will thrive in most ordinary garden soil. The only real trick to fall gardening is to choose or create a space that is not too hot during the initial growing period, but that will get plenty of sun (if we get any) over the winter. A spot shaded by deciduous trees for at least part of the day is ideal. However, use of row covers and shade cloth also works well. Not only do the row covers and shade cloth cool your plantings down, they also help eliminate pests, so that is a bonus. Another consideration for fall and winter gardens is drainage. My soil resembles a wet squishy sponge during the winter. If yours does too, a raised bed is ideal. In a raised bed you can hand build your soil, provide drainage, and protection from gophers too. Not that gophers have ever bothered my kohlrabi, but they might want yours.

Whether you plant in raised beds or in the ground, don’t forget to mulch. Mulch reduces soil temperature, helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients and feeds those oh so important earthworms and soil micro-organisms. All these factors will help your kohlrabi to get established and thrive. Once the weather cools and the rains begin the mulch isn’t nearly as important. But late summer and early fall mulch will give your plants a good start. Believe me, along about December or January you might just be grateful that the best kept weight loss secret in four centuries is growing right out in your garden, especially since it taste so good.

If you can’t find seeds at your local nursery or in your favorite catalog, here’s a great spot to order on-line or by mail. Reimer Seeds, PO Box 236, Mount Holly, NC 28120-0236, Fax: 704-644-3762 , They carry some nice purple, green and white kohlrabi, as well as a couple of the gigantic types.

* If you missed the articles on mulch (Nurture your Soil), earthworms, aphids, or gophers visit: Use the search function on the page to pull up the archived articles. (If you have trouble finding any of the articles, let me know and I will find you a link.)

Next time, by special request, we will be featuring a number of ways to use all that summer squash you’ve been growing. Until then you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, August 8, 2006. Posted here with permission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i used this for a school project and found it quite helpful