The Case for Growing Kohlrabi

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Purple Kohlrabi growing in the garden

Becoming a good vegetable gardener often means opening your mind and your garden to unfamiliar food crops. Such is the case with kohlrabi, a vegetable virtually unknown outside Northern Europe and Kashmir until the last few decades. A thoroughly modern vegetable, historians think that kohlrabi was developed in Northern Europe only 500 years ago, mostly likely by selecting from "marrow cabbage," a type of cabbage with a thick heart. Dark brown to black kohlrabi seeds are indistinguishable from those of closely related broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. While all of these vegetables can make great garden crops, growing kohlrabi is a wise choice because it’s so fast, easy and dependable. For beginning gardeners, kohlrabi is the first cabbage family crop you should try.

Kohlrabi is, in my opinion, one of the finest delicacies in the garden, worthy of planting two or three times each season. In the garden, kohlrabi sports a trim, upright growing habit that accommodates the presence of nearby plants – something the bigger brassicas cannot do. Growing kohlrabi and beets together works well because the two crops grow on a similar schedule and have similar moisture needs. You also can grow kohlrabi between rows of onions, lettuce, or radicchio, where its odd appearance becomes strikingly handsome.

How Does Kohlrabi Taste?

Kohlrabi delivers the flavor of tender broccoli stems, but with a crisp texture that has earned it the nickname of "vegetable apple." 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 home grown broccoli.

Green kohlrabi

You can get to know kohlrabi in the kitchen by trying three simple concepts: slaw made by combining grated or julienned kohlrabi with apples, oven-roasted kohlrabi, and creamy kohlrabi soup (curry recommended but optional). Unless the bulbs are very young and tender, it’s best to peel them to avoid chewy strings. Kohlrabi leaves are eaten in some cuisines, but in my experience they tend toward bitterness and lack the tender bite of more table-worthy greens. The world record for kohlrabi stands at 97 pounds (44 kg), grown by Alaskan Scott Robb, but I’ve never eaten a really good kohlrabi bigger than a baseball.

Kohlrabi Seeds or Seedlings?

You can direct-seed kohlrabi seeds in a well-prepared seedbed, or start seedlings in small containers indoors and transplant them to your garden when they are 3 to 4 weeks old. Kohlrabi tolerates cool conditions, so you can push your planting dates up by two to three weeks by using cloches, tunnels or other season-stretching devices. I often use milk carton cloches to protect kohlrabi seedlings from harsh spring winds. Just as my last frost passes, I direct-seed a small second planting for harvest in midsummer.

When growing kohlrabi in spring, I suggest using a fast-maturing hybrid that can be harvested when the bulbs are about 3 inches (8 cm) in diameter. Typical varieties are rated at around 60 days to maturity, but often take longer. If you live in a cool climate, or any climate that permits growing broccoli and collards in the fall, that is the time to experiment with heavyweight heirloom varieties like Gigante, also known as Superschmelz, which can still be of excellent quality at 5 to 6 inches (12-15 cm) in diameter when matured in cool fall soil.

Mulched kohlrabi
Mulching kohlrabi keeps the roots cool and damp

Keeping Kohlrabi Happy

Occasional cabbageworms (the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies) may need plucking from your kohlrabi plants, though they much prefer cabbage and broccoli. Drying out is a more serious problem when growing kohlrabi, because the plants sit atop the ground and do a terrible job of shading surrounding soil. A rich mulch of freshly cut grass clippings or chunky compost is therefore necessary to keep kohlrabi’s root zone cool and moist and provide a trickle of ready-to-use nutrients for this delicious, fast-growing crop.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"I grew Kolibri Kohlrabi (a purple variety) last year for the first time. I direct seeded it and they grew pretty well. I really enjoyed the flavor in slaws and when julienned on salads. I'm going to grow it again this year for sure!"
Pete on Friday 18 February 2011
"Does the plant only produce one 3" harvest? How many days from seed to harvest? What kind of added nutrients/fertilizer and how often?"
Tom on Saturday 19 February 2011
"Tom, it's true that yields may seem small, but kohlrabi can be rather closely spaced (or interplanted) and is out of the garden in 60 days or so, leaving time to plant something else. In terms of fertilizer, kohlrabi is no more demanding than other vegetables. A standard application of an organic fertilizer, mixed into the soil according to label rates prior to planting, is all that is necessary."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 19 February 2011
"Thanks Barb. Sorry to be so naive. How close together in a raised bed?"
Tom on Saturday 19 February 2011
"when my kids were growing up we had kohlrabi in our garden. the kids loved it raw, just slice and a little salt and it was soon gone. I hardly ever got a chance to cook it! a great vegetable raw or steamed. A little bit of a course texture to it,good roughage food."
pat on Saturday 19 February 2011
"Tom, the GrowVeg software allows a minimum of 8 inches (20cm) between kohlrabi plants. I recently laid out a bed alternating short rows of kohlrabi and beets (6 inches, or 15cm apart) and it looks beautiful. Should your planting turn out a bit dense, that would be okay. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 19 February 2011
"In Square Foot Gardening, I did 4 per square. So in a single 4ftx1ft row, I had 16 plants."
Pete on Saturday 19 February 2011
"Did anyone ever try putting drip irrigation at a 2-6" depth beneath the surface? I was just daydreaming and thought that if the water source were deeper maybe the plant would send roots down to get it. Just curious"
Tom on Saturday 19 February 2011
"Thanks Pete for the tip on planting kohlrabi in a 4x4 sq garden, was wondering about spacing them."
Pat on Sunday 20 February 2011
"Can shrimp and lobster shells be composted?"
Tom on Monday 21 February 2011
"Definitely compost your shrimp and lobster shells! The composting process will get rid of the excess salts from cooking, and the shells will enrich the soil with calcium and chitin, among other things."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 21 February 2011
"I use kohlrabi as a substitute for potatoes in potatoes au gratin"
Sue on Monday 21 February 2011
"We love kohlrabi and sometimes it doesn't even make it indoors! It is lovely just pulled, peeled and eaten. Last year we had a lot of white fly, which although on the plants, did very little damage - perhaps as the leaves are so far away from the vegetable and also because the growing time is so short."
Lisa on Sunday 27 February 2011
"We've grown kohlrabi for many years. Love it raw, in salads, added to soups and stews, and boiled like turnips, I actually prefer the taste. We normally succession plant it in 2 week increments for a continuous harvest. And I do try to plant different varieties of it, just for fun. "
doccat5 on Tuesday 1 March 2011
"My Mother grew kohlrabi in our backyard garden in the 1950's (in Minnesota). Whenever we asked her what was for dinner and she included kohlrabi in her answer, one of us would call out "Robbie, Mom wants you". Needless to say, we kids liked kohlrabi for more than eating!"
Maggie on Thursday 3 March 2011
"Maggie, I don't get it!"
Tom on Friday 4 March 2011
"Ah, Tom, you are too young to get that reference. Robbie as in Robbie the Robot from a 50's movie. One of the things that kids love about kohlrabi is the appearance. Sort of like little aliens from other space. LOL The little round body with little "legs" coming out of the ground. "
doccat5 on Friday 4 March 2011
"Tom, Kohlrabi, to us kids, sounded close to "call Robbie", so we were playing a joke on both Mom and our brother, Robbie."
Maggie on Friday 4 March 2011
"Awesome, thanks for sharing Maggie"
Tom on Friday 4 March 2011
"I'm so happy to see this article. My grandfather passed away when I was a little girl and my mother once told me his favorite vegetable was kohlrabi. I kept that in the back of my head for a long time until finally I tried it and loved it. Last year I grew my first crop and am trying again this year. First time around, I had trouble, as it seemed reluctant to make a "bulb". Any idea what might have caused that?"
Megan O'Shaughnessy on Sunday 5 June 2011
"a favourite german and italian vegetable, i believe"
sky on Sunday 16 October 2011
"sometimes my kohlrabi plants don.t bulb up.They grow taller and eventuaally go to seeed without a bulb. I still use the stem and it is tender but would like to get the turnip shape. lee"
lee on Sunday 30 October 2011
"More compost,less late stage nitrogen, more potass..."
tj on Sunday 30 October 2011
"Lee, I think hybrids are less likely to refuse to bulb, so try fast-maturing hybrid varieties. Also, make sure the plants get ample nutrients during their juvenile period, as tj suggests. When the young plants show vigorous growth, try drenching them with a liquid organic fertilizer such as a fish emulsion/kelp product. Repeat two weeks later. Hope this solves your problem. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 30 October 2011
"can you eat the flower stems of kohlrabilike you would sprouting brocoli"
Loujan on Monday 21 November 2011
"Yes, you can eat both the little buds and the open flowers. The unopened buds are especially pretty and tasty floated in a bowl of Asian style soup."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 21 November 2011
"hi ok so it's ok to eat little buds and open flowers--should i presume that it's ok to eat leaves? i'm guessing it is,but wanna make sure! thank you in advance for any response"
sky on Monday 21 November 2011
"Absolutely! Just eat them like beet tops (stir fry, floating in soup etc). My chickens also looove them!"
Lisa on Monday 21 November 2011
"thank you lisa an barbara"
sky on Monday 21 November 2011
"Had some growing here in Mid-Illovo , east coast South Africa, grew well. will be planting again, horse radish doin great too. "
Craig Smith on Friday 25 November 2011
"I've been introduced to kohlrabi recently when it arrived in my Riverford organic veg box. It makes a great substitute for green papaya (not easy to get hold of in the UK) in a Thai salad known as Som Tam which is a delicious if you like sweet, sour, spicy, salty Thai food. The kohlrabi soaks up all the great flavours that go into this salad. I've just started blogging about living with a veg box for one and growing some of my own food including kohlrabi so it's been very helpful finding this website. Thanks "
Linda on Sunday 6 May 2012
"I am looing to grow kohnrabi but a quick maturing one, which variety would you reccommend and how long does it take to mature??"
Tara Griffin on Thursday 7 June 2012
"I have kohlirabi coming up from last year. The bulb is above the ground. has anyone else ever have this happen? Do you think its good?"
becky on Thursday 14 June 2012
"Tara, the hybrid varieties tend to be faster and more uniform, but for fall you may find that slower-growing open pollinated varieties do just as well. Experiment!...Becky, your seedlings probably came from dormant seeds. You lucky girl! The only problem is that the plants are probably growing near where they grew last year. Take care not to plant cabbage family crops in that space for two years. The GrowVeg rotation tool will keep you straight on that. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 14 June 2012
"Thanks Barbara. I never even had it last year. Only one came up and I forgot about it until it froze. I am going to try it today for the first time. Just hope its good. I live in Chicago and its been a really warm summer and mild winter."
Becky on Thursday 14 June 2012
"I planted some for the first time in my home made pollytunnel.i think i got to much leaf so i cut the leaf down a bit sems to have worked they are swelling up nicely, tempted to pull one and eat it.think i will when i get home from work. colin from ireland. "
colin holliday on Thursday 28 June 2012
"It is good to hear of your successes with Kohlrabi. It seems like every year I have more trouble with it. This Spring I seeded it in the hoophouse and its just growing slow, not bulbing, intolerant of close 6" spacing. I am going to keep trying though !! Our Spring was cold and its been under rowcover until late May."
Jean in Mt on Sunday 1 July 2012
"I bought a kohlrabi at the produce market and it started growing leaves in 2 days. It was so pretty i put it in a shallow dish of water nad now it has roots. Can I grow it like this??"
Danielle Diaz on Wednesday 14 November 2012
"I took the comment less nitrogen and more potassium and am getting a better success rate with bulbing lee"
lee on Thursday 15 November 2012
"Danielle, you can keep the kohlrabi alive in water, but any new growth will come at the expense of the bulb, which will become corky and soft. Better to enjoy eating that kohlrabi, the essence of live food!"
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 15 November 2012
"I just pulled out an overgrown kohlrabi that never went to seed it had to be about 10 lbs., if not more, and the top half of it was still edible and tasted good. I was surprised, usually anything bigger than my fist is totally inedible."
Frank on Monday 26 November 2012
"Frank -- glad to see your comment. I have two kohlrabi plants growing in the raised bed of my side yard right now. I started them from one tiny seedling from the garden center. No idea about variety/hybrid. It was cheap :) I never harvested it and ate it, and it grew and grew. First one large plant, now two from it. They aren't bulbous -- the roots are long like a giant potato or daikon radish, only thicker. Brownish skin down by the soil, and then purplish fading to light green at the top two thirds where the leaves start coming out. None of the leaves are gigantic, but they're sizable enough. They get eaten by bugs a little, but not a ton. And now they both have 2 or 3 flower stalks with beautiful yellow flowers blooming. So my question for you all is this -- How can I eat these? Is the long root above the brown part good? Should I peel it? If I cut if off and eat the top, will the plant regrow from the remaining root in the soil? Should I wait to cut it out of the soil and eat it until it's done flowering so I can (hopefully) get seed pods and collect the seeds to plant more? If I eat the flower stalks, I won't get seed pods, right? Will the root continue to grow if I cut off some of the leaves to eat? Sorry for so many questions -- this is the most informative Kohlrabi site I've found so far (it's REALLY difficult to find information on kohlrabi) and all of your comments have been SO helpful!!! Thank you all so much!!! I live in Texas, north of Houston, if my climate is any help in answering these questions -- I don't have a ton of luck gardening, but I keep trying, and I find that perennials do best here -- I've got asparagus that I planted from roots at the same time and it's continuing to produce more and more each year. Still learning more about that one too. Okay, sorry to go on, but I appreciate any help you can all provide! Thanks!!!"
Stacy on Thursday 11 April 2013
"Stacy, I'm wondering if you have a kolhrabi that never bulbed or something else, possibly rutabaga. I am amazed that either plant survived in the Houston area this long! At this point you might enjoy your plants for their flowers, much loved by bees, and then dig the roots and see if they are edible. Due to the plants' old age, I would not expect good taste and texture. In your climate, your next good kohlrabi season starts in late summer. If you get new seedlings started in September, you will have kohlrabi until the end of the year. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 12 April 2013
"I live in a Mediterranean climate and my kholrabis refuse to bulb. I spoiled them silly with compost, keep them watered but they still won't bulb. When are the bulbs meant to begin swelling? How soon after seedlings are planted and how tall should they be? Trish"
Trish on Tuesday 16 April 2013
"Kohlrabi is a shorter plant than broccoli, and usually stays small except when big varieties are grown in fall. Sometimes cabbage family crops are better off in a dense clay soil than in cushy compost because they are prone to rocking about in the wind. You should see bulbs 60 days or so after plants are set out in spring. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 17 April 2013
"Is there a way to post a photo here? I would love to let everyone see how mine are growing. They're flowering now like crazy -- beautiful spikes of yellow flowers. Glad to hear the bees will like them -- there's been a dearth of pollinators for some time. My other crops will be thankful. I'm pretty certain it's not rutabaga, and it certainly said kohlrabi when I bought it :) But I'm open. Either way, the top of the root (well above ground) is greenish/purplish and looks tender enough. I'm just reluctant to cut it off and not have the rest of the plant grow back, you know? Does anyone know if this will happen? I'm going to see about posting a photo to flikr or somewhere and I'll come back and post a link. Would really love more input. Thanks so much for all the help so far!"
Stacy on Wednesday 17 April 2013
"I looked up images of flowering kohlrabi on google and I think I must've just gotten some sort of strange hybrid. Perhaps I should let it keep growing and enter a competition for really big kohlrabi :) It's definitely kohlrabi though, and it's getting really big!"
Stacy on Wednesday 17 April 2013
"Kohlrabi does not grow back after it has been cut -- it's a one fell swoop thing. Younger bulbs taste better than older ones."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 18 April 2013
"Should you remove the leaves on the bottom as the turn?"
Andrea on Sunday 26 May 2013
"Andrea, with all cabbage family crops it's fine to remove old leaves close to the ground as they turn yellow. Otherwise, the more leaves a kohlrabi plant holds, the better."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 27 May 2013
"Wow! Thanks for all of the info I learned so far! I am concerned about my Kohlrabi plants. They are very small, just about 3 inches tall, considering that they've been growing for almost 2 months now. I saw someone advise about the soil's nutrients but I'm not sure how to test for that and how to change it if need be. Is it necessary to test the soil? They're in pots in fresh soil from the store which says it feeds plants for up to 6 months, so I was hoping I'd be good to go on that end. Any tips on how to improve their growing rate?"
Yoch on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"Ok. I'm really embarrassed. I wrote back in April that my colorabi weren't swelling at the base? Well, I was so busy looking for the bulbs under the leaves (I do love my colis) I didn't notice the broccoli coming up on top. I had the wrong seedlings. "
Trish on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"Yoch, kohlrabi and other cabbage family crops often become dwarfed from cramped roots when grown in containers. In addition to larger pots, you can try drenching the plants with a liquid fertilizer. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"Just wanted to share a word: After two years of trying, I finally have kohlrabi bulbing up! I'm SO excited. The bulbs are almost plum-sized. Going to give them a little more time, but I can barely wait. (Sadly, the greens have been absolutely decimated by cabbage worm.)"
Megan O'Shaughnessy on Saturday 29 June 2013
"Megan, go ahead and try a couple of small ones. If heavy rains come, with little leaf cover to distribute water taken up by the roots, kohlrabi can develop cracks. You can eat kohlrabi that has split, but perfect ones are more fun. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 30 June 2013
"Thank you Barbara, that's very good to know, and I will. We are getting heavy rain now (and will be for the coming week), and I'd planned to do a first harvest tonight anyway. I'd not considered the possibility of the kohlrabi splitting without having much greens to help!"
Megan O'Shaughnessy on Sunday 30 June 2013
"I am growing kohlrabi for the first time and they are flowering like crazy. Am I supposed to remove all the flowers or leave them? Is it too late to have edible bulbs now that I let them flower? "
Crystal B on Wednesday 10 July 2013
"Sorry to say that kohlrabi in bloom is past its harvest period. When the bulbs of spring kohlrabi are 2 to 3 inches across, you have to pull them. Kohlrabi started in summer for harvesting in the fall often gets bigger and never flowers."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 10 July 2013
"If your plant is infested by cabbage worms. Spray them with a sunlight soap solution (couple of drops per 1 gallon water can) and you will be surprise how fast they will disappear. I use this sunlight solution on broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, chinese greens and almost anything that shows sign of worms or bugs and it works extremely well in northern alberta. Anyone knows of any problem of this bug control method?"
Hilda on Saturday 5 October 2013
"How can I propagate my kohlrabi? I don't want to harvest it and then no more kohlrabi plants. I want to make new kohlrabi plants out of the two that I have."
Miggo Wagga on Thursday 16 April 2015
"Miggo, that won't work because the edible part is the expanded main stem. You can start more seeds every few weeks and have a steady supply all summer. It is sometimes difficult to eat your veggie friends. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 17 April 2015
"I can remember my grandfather growing kohlrabi in his garden when I was a little girl. My grandmother would cook it up, and I remember it being awful! I don't think she ever peeled it! So I decided to give it a try, so much better when it is peeled before eating! I was harvesting the last of my spring kohlrabi for dinner the other day. As I pull them, I trim the tap root and leaves off in the garden for less mess in the kitchen. I go to drop my second kohlrabi in my colender, and my first one is missing! I look up, and there was my ninety pound yellow lab mix with the kohlrabi in his mouth! His look said, "mom, it's green, it's round, it must be a tennis ball, let's play"! I had to go find a real tennis ball to trade before he would give me back my kohlrabi : ) I have always had trouble with cabbage worms here in CT, but this year used a row cover supported by plastic pvc pipe hoops. (In addition to the kohlrabi, also have broccoli, kale, bok choi and lettuce under cover) What a difference it made, scant insect damage, every thing very "clean". It also seems to be providing just enough shade to keep plants from bolting, as we have been spiking temps into the 80's on and off for the past 3 weeks. Barbara, I enjoy reading your blogs very much, thank you for all your garden wisdom you share with us!"
Jenn Uncasville , CT USA on Friday 19 June 2015
"Thanks, Jenn, I've been having kohlrabi bliss this year, too, few pests so far. Because the leaves stay so clean, more and more local organic growers in my area are using row covers for leafy greens. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 20 June 2015
"I live in upstate South Carolina. Is it too late to sow the seeds directly into the ground, being it's early summer? I have never grown Kohlrabi before and I'm eager to try it. The seed package says to start seeds indoors 4-6 wks before transplanting into the garden and some websites says you can plant directly into the garden in Spring(which is too late now). OR should I wait until late Summer or next Fall? I'm just unsure of WHEN.. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks."
Marie on Monday 6 July 2015
"In your area it is almost time to start fall kohlrabi -- the first of August is a good date to start with. I'd start the seeds in containers and set the plants out when they are still small, and you will get a good crop. In spring you can direct seed in the last couple of weeks before your first frost date, or work with indoor-grown seedlings."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 7 July 2015
"Ok..thank you so much for your help."
Marie on Tuesday 21 July 2015
"This is my first time planting Kohlrabi, I started from seed at the recommended spacing and depth. But my question is how many Kohlrabi will grow per seed? From what I have Been reading I am assuming only one. Thanks with any help."
Brent on Thursday 9 June 2016
"Brent, you are right. The "bulb" is really a swelling of the main stem. After it enlarges, the plant has no way of growing more of them. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 9 June 2016
"Thanks Barbara, That leads to my next question, what size should I let the seedlings get before I thin them out and transplant them? Thanks again for all your help. "
Brent on Thursday 9 June 2016
"As with other cabbage family crops, it is best to separate the seedlings into individual pots when they have their first true leaf. You can transplant anytime the seedlings are in good condition and the weather is right, usually when they are four to six weeks old."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 20 June 2016
"I'm on Mid to Northern Vancouver Island.... and I am still harvesting Kohlrabi from plants planted 3 or 4 years ago..... I'm guessin it is because we have had such mild winters..... Just tonight we are eating some..... I harvested some bulbs and leaves in the spring..... I'm just wondering if I can root the top.... does anyone know? has any one tried..... it is acting more like a perrenial to me.... so my thought is that it might root too...."
Deb on Tuesday 8 November 2016
"Can you please speak more about spliting stems. I have loads of great kohlrabi but many of them had blemishes i could not store in sand. I'd like to know why or what causes splitting. In carrots, it's said splitting is caused by not thinning out the rows... Thank you in advance, and i love love loved Jean's Lab who had taken her rabi stem, what a classic visual! Let's hear more from your doogie, Jean! Right on! (Jean's post from Uncasville, CT)"
Teresa on Friday 13 October 2017
"Teresa, in my experience older kohlrabi will develop cracks when exposed to heavy rain, or any large fluctuations in soil moisture. It happens less with younger plants."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 13 October 2017

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