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Kohlrabi – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

Kohlrabi- Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

We are in the middle of Fall now and sometime this month we should expect our first freeze. The warm season vegetables are on the way out but the cool season vegetables are in full stride. One fairly unusual vegetable that we grow in the cool season is kohlrabi.

I was in my 20’s the first time I was introduced to kohlrabi after I moved to a neighborhood with lots folks of Czech and German decent. An older gentleman offered me an assortment of cabbage family transplants including some kohlrabi and I’ve been growing a bit of it ever since. Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group) is related to a lot of our more familiar vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale etc. The name kohlrabi is basically a contraction of the Swiss and German words for cabbage and turnip. Kohlrabi has been bred from the wild cabbage plant by selecting for leaf development around a swollen stem. The plant looks a bit like something from outer space with leaves branching out at many angles from a bulbous stem that looks like it should be in the ground rather than arising from a rather spindly looking trunk. The leaves of the kohlrabi are edible but it is the round enlarged stem that many find most appealing. Compared to many other vegetables, the kohlrabi is a fairly recent development being only 400 to 500 years old.

Growing kohlrabi is similar to other cabbage species. Kohlrabi is grown as a cool season vegetable and should be planted in well fertilized and well drained garden soil in full sun. They can be planted as a spring crop but tend to do better planted for growing in fall into winter in our area. Mature plants can stand light frosts and will often continue growing through most of our mild winters. Seeds are planted about 1/4 inch deep and seedlings should be thinned to 4 to 6 inches apart. Kohlrabi are easily transplanted so thinnings can be planted elsewhere in the garden. Consistent soil moisture and high soil fertility promote rapid growth of tender kohlrabi. Some varieties can be ready to harvest in as little as 40 days from seeding. Kohlrabi can have a few pest and disease issues but are generally easily controlled especially once the weather gets quite cool. Plants are best harvested as soon as the enlarged stems get to about 2 inches in diameter – larger stems may become more fibrous. Kohlrabi varieties come in a range of colors from almost white to green to purple. There are many varieties available to try including White Vienna, Purple Vienna, Grand Duke and Konan to name just a few. With the leaves removed, the kohlrabi bulbs can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Nutritionally, kohlrabi is similar to other cabbage family vegetables. It is a good source of vitamin C and potassium and high in fiber and low in calories. It also provides a number of phytochemicals, minerals and B vitamins.

Kohlrabi leaves can be prepared like other leafy greens and will be quite similar to cabbage or collards. The bulb can be eaten raw or cooked. If the bulbs are older or a bit tough, the outer part may need to be peeled to get to the tender heart. The flavor is somewhat like cabbage but a bit sweeter and quite crunchy – kind of like a vegetable version of an apple. Raw kohlrabi make a great dipper similar to how you might use jicama or apple slices. Kohlrabi make a wonderful slaw and salad too. Sliced kohlrabi can be steamed until tender crisp and lightly dressed for serving as a side dish like broccoli. A typical German recipe is to serve tender cooked kohlrabi in a béchamel sauce. Kohlrabi also roasts well with a bit of olive oil and parmesan. Stuffed with a meat and vegetable mix then baked, kohlrabi can become a main dish.

This somewhat unusual vegetable is pretty easy to grow, striking in appearance and a nice change of pace at the table. Save a spot in your garden to give it a try.

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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