Thursday, January 24, 2008

Let's Trade: Your Purple Kohlrabi Growing Tips For My Best Kohlrabi Recipe Ever

Pathetic purple kohlrabi direct seeded sometime last summer

Realization Of The Day:
I'm giving up on the kohlrabi - again. (But I'll still eat the leaves.)

There's nothing like a couple of zero degree mornings to put things into perspective. It's time to let last year's garden go. This is actually a relief because there comes a point, usually around mid-December, when covering and uncovering half a dozen raised beds with floating row covers, old bedsheets, raggedy quilts, sheets of thick clear plastic, tarps, and whatever else is cheap and handy starts to feel like a real pain in the butt—especially when you uncover the tiny Swiss chard plants you've been coddling along for months in one of the mini greenhouse beds only to find that they've been munched down to nothing but pathetic little stems by. . . well, I have no idea what ate them, only that they had to have been really persistent (and really hungry) to reach them.

As for this row of kohlrabi plants I direct seeded sometime around last June, it's actually doing pretty well considering it's been covered with nothing but two floating row covers and an old sheet during these record-breaking bitter cold temperatures, more of which are expected tonight. Kohlrabi is one cold-hardy little vegetable, but my problem seems to with the other end of the thermometer. Once again the plants have refused to form bulbs, and I think it may have to do with the heat.

Early last spring (unfortunately I didn't write down exactly when) I direct seeded a couple of rows of purple kohlrabi, and only a few of the plants ever formed bulbs. They didn't get too cold, were planted in rich organic soil, had plenty of sunshine, were watered regularly, and weren't overcrowded. But they just kept growing straight up instead of out.

Not a single one of the plants in my second planting (again I forgot to make a note of exactly when I started the seeds, but I think it was June) formed bulbs, and I made sure they were thinned out so that none of the plants were even touching each other just in case that was the problem, though I didn't think it was.

Apparently most gardeners don't have any trouble growing kohlrabi, because my search through books, blogs, seed catalogs, gardening forums, and various other online sources for help about my no-bulb problem came up with zilch.

Everybody did say that kohlrabi matures quickly, likes cool weather, should be grown in the spring and/or fall, tastes even better after a frost, and is extremely easy to grow. For them, maybe.

I did find an excellent online article about growing kohlrabi from Mother Earth News called "Cool Kohlrabi" that said if you let the bulbs form during warm weather they can become woody. I also read somewhere that if you let the bulbs get too large they can become woody, but nobody mentions what you're doing wrong if the bulbs don't form at all.

It's iffy growing spring and fall crops in Missouri, which is why I almost never get any decent broccoli. Or cabbage. Or spinach. Or rapini. Or cauliflower, which I fortunately quit trying to grow years ago because I recently learned that it is incredibly finicky.

Our winters are harsh (relatively speaking), spring heats up very quickly (we almost always have April days in the 90s), and by the time the ridiculously hot and humid summers have cooled down enough to start seeds for fall, it's well into September, and there isn't usually enough growing time left before winter really sets in.

That's what happened this year with a lot of my fall plantings. I direct seeded all sorts of things on September 15th, and while I did enjoy some gorgeous spinach, a fine crop of kale, a few Oriental greens, and even a double cutting of mizuna, the turnips, five kinds of beets, and several varieties of Swiss chard I had high hopes for unfortunately never amounted to anything. (The chard I definitely should have started earlier, as it is extremely heat tolerant.)

On the other hand, the four types of bush beans I planted in late March (and was so happy I was getting them in the ground early!) froze to death.

This is just wrong—and depressing.

I'm not giving up on my purple kohlrabi, though. I love it way too much. In fact, I probably love it even more because I hardly ever get to eat it.

Kohlrabi, from the German words kohl (cabbage) and rabi (turnip), is not actually a cabbage or a turnip. Cultivated in Europe since at least the mid 1500's, this cold loving member of the brassica (cabbage) family is low in calories, high in fiber, and a good source of several vitamins and minerals. Although kohlrabi has been grown the U.S. since at least the early 1800's, it still has yet to become very popular.

Sweet and mildly flavored, kohlrabi can be braised, boiled, stuffed, sliced, scalloped, steamed, julienned, roasted, and sautéed. You can grate it into slaw, toss it into salads, slip it into soups and stews, snack on it raw with dip, and stir-fry it. You can even wrap it in foil and grill it.

I've seen recipes where kohlrabi was covered in cream, sautéed with anchovies, stuffed into empanadas, fried into cakes, served with hollandaise sauce, and turned into a cinnamon brunch bake. This vegetable is versatile.

Unfortunately all of these cooks are wasting their time - and their kohlrabi. For the only thing you should ever be doing with kohlrabi is turning it into purée. Trust me. You'll find my favorite recipe in this post on Farmgirl Fare, What To Do With Kohlrabi? Purée it! What's really nice about this recipe (besides the fact that it tastes divine) is that it makes use of both the kohlrabi leaves and the bulbs. By the way, the cute little baby leaves make wonderful additions to salads.

Now that's kohlrabi! (This photo was taken in my kitchen garden on 7/16/07, so I know I can really do it - or it can really do it.)

Okay, so now that you have my recipe, I'm hoping you'll give me some kohlrabi growing tips. What do you think I'm doing wrong? I know kohlrabi can be successfully grown here, as I've had bumper crops in the (very distant) past, and even last spring's planting gave me enough harvestable plants, like the beautiful one above (which I supposedly let get too large but didn't taste woody at all), to make one batch of perfect purée. Any help is greatly appreciated!

In the meantime, I'm tempted to start some kohlrabi seeds in the greenhouse right now, but even in winter it can quickly shoot up to 90+ degrees in there on a sunny day, and if the heat actually is my problem I'd be wasting my time.

Instead I think I'll start a few containers of seeds indoors (which is how I used to start almost everything, but I've been direct seeding more and more as the years go by) then set out the seedlings as soon as they're a couple inches high since I know they can handle the cold.

Wish me luck. I'm really hoping that 2008 will be The Year Of The Humongous Kohlrabi Harvest. I know that someday I'll have so much kohlrabi I'll actually get tired of devouring it puréed, so I'd love to know your favorite ways to eat it, too.

Never give up for good in the garden.

©, the purple passioned foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.


  1. Looking forward to reading the tips from the experts!

  2. What a coincidence! I just posted about how much I like to grow kohlrabi on my blog yesterday. My kohlrabi almost always forms bulbs, so I closely read your post to try to figure out what went wrong. The only thing you and I seem to do different is that I always start my seeds in the greenhouse, prick them out into 2-1/4" rose pots, then transplant them out to the garden. Bulbs galore! When I transplant them, I put them a bit deeper in the ground than they were in the pot. When the odd one doesn't get planted deep enough, I notice those seedlings do not form a bulb. So maybe that's it!

  3. Well, I'm sorry to say that I have no advice. Kohlrabi is one of those pretty veggies that I always hover over in the green market, wondering if I could find a way to use it...but it's just not in my gastro-lexicon. But you're inspiring me to try to grow some this year and I just added it to my seed list.

    I have a very similar problem with beets the past few years. Only about half of my plants will form bulbs, the rest look spindly and get this woody tap-root looking thing that bends sideways above ground. The greens area always delish, but no bulb! Have yet to figure out why. Mixed results with hilling the soil up around that twisty bit of root...sometimes it forms a bulb, sometimes it just rots the whole plant.

    Hope you get some good advice about it and I'll be checking back to see...and will share what I learn about this plant as I grow it this season.

  4. I am waiting for my arugula and cilantro to "come back." I've never gotten down with kohlrabi, but love this post just the same.

    In fact, your beautiful blog is an inspiration. I have tagged you for a meme over on mine, just as a way to get to know more about your gardening life. It's at Loosely Speaking,

  5. Your photo of 7/16/07 is gorgeous! My Mom said she could use something like it in one of the endless floral designs she comes up with. Kind of looks like a plant you used to see on the first Star Trek TV show - wild and unearthly! Thanks for the link to loveapplefarm - I can use as much veggie growing advice as possible. Now, to wait for kohlrabi to appear at my local Food Co-op...

  6. I wish you luck with the kohlrabi!!

    Sorry, I haven't grown it myself .. so can't offer any advice.

    But your blog is beautiful and I'm going to follow it with interest this growing season.

  7. I have never tried Kohlrabi but after reading your post I will have to try some!

    I enjoy reading your posts and learn something new almost every visit!
    Have a wonderful evening!

  8. Perhaps there's too much nitrogen in the soil for these finicky kohlrabi? That would encourage them to continue producing leaves in favour of drawing nutrients into the root.

    (Hello, by the way! I'm happily trawling through all your archives, but haven't commented til now. Yours has become my favourite daily read.)

  9. I am having the exact same issue with my kohlrabi. I planted some last year in the spring and fall and only a few ended up with bulbs big enough to eat. It's been a year now since I sowed my first batch and they are still healthy, rooted, and have beautiful leaves. I'm afraid to put more seeds in the soil because I don't want to contaminate new plants if it is a disease issue, but I haven't found any information on this problem except your blog. Thank you for having it posted, now I don't feel quite so crazy! The temperatures here in central Texas were at record highs last year, so hopefully heat was the issue as you surmised.

    Good luck!

  10. How about an update? I'm in Missouri too and wondering what varieties of kohlrabi you've tried so far. I planted Purple Vienna last year and I'm trying Grand Duke this year. Sorry - no wisdom to pass along yet. I'm always looking for tips on what does well in Missouri and I post often in the Ozarks Gardening forum on
    I enjoyed looking through your blog. You may have found an id for it already, but the photo you posted on May 29th looks a lot like my catmint (nepeta). Could that be what it is?

  11. I'm growing kohlrabi in an aquaponics system in texas. mine are doing the same thing, but I'm not sure if it's due to the heat or excess nitrogen. My leaves are extremely large though, so the excess nitrogen suggested by another commenter above makes since to me. I don't mind though. I have been treating it like a leaf lettuce by occasionally harvesting a leaf or two for salads. The leaves are extremely nutritious and tastey.

  12. I use my kohlrabi grated with carrot, sultanas and a curry orange dressing. I also combine them with Celeriac and purple potatoes for a great stoup ( a cross between a soup and a stew) Black beans optional.
    I have had good success with my plants, I have only had bulbless kohlrabi once and that was the year I crowded up the garden and the plants didn't get enough air and light around them.

  13. My kohlrabi loves my garden. The only two that haven't done well are the two I planted in a wine barrel that may not hold the moisture enough. I do live in desert region (San Diego). The kohlrabi loved this past winter although I did have to water it twice a week because we had another dry winter.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!