I’ve been gardening for a long time (since I had brown hair, about 25 years ago). I’d like to think I learned a couple of things. Something always does well, and something always fails. Every year brings something new to try.
I’ve grown lettuce every year, and it has never failed for me, until this year. After re-planting several times, I looked at the empty pot and thought, “Maybe it’s time to try something new”.
I visited my friend Mark Woronek (Mark’s Garden & Gifts, 1115 Main St, Watertown, CT) and asked his advice on something new to try. I gave him some ideas, and he quickly returned with some kohlrabi plants. He asked me to try them, and document my experiences. That’s what this is.
This is the start of Wikipedia’s listing for kohlrabi. If you want to read the whole article, go to wikipedia.com and search for kohlrabi.
Kohlrabi (German turnip or turnip cabbage; Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group) is a biennial vegetable, and is a low, stout cultivar of cabbage. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Edible preparations are made with both the stem and the leaves.
The name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus Rübe ~ Rabi (Swiss German variant) ("turnip"), because the swollen stem resembles the latter. Kohlrabi is a commonly eaten vegetable in German-speaking countries, but is also very popular in the northern part of Vietnam where it is called 'su hao', and in eastern parts of India (West Bengal) and Bangladesh where it is called 'Ol Kopi'. It is also found in the Kashmir valley in north India and is there known as 'Monj-hakh', 'monj' being the round part, and 'hakh' being the leafy part. This vegetable is called 'Nol Khol' in the north of India, and in Ceylon as 'Nol col' (the Turnip Cabbage).
Kohlrabi has been created by artificial selection for lateral meristem growth (a swollen, nearly spherical shape); its origin in nature is the same as that of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts: they are all bred from, and are the same species as, the wild cabbage plant (Brassica oleracea).
The taste and texture of kohlrabi are similar to those of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter, with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem in particular can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, although much less sweet.
The printed instructions said to plant kohlrabi about 1 foot apart. However, I know that since you control the entire environment in a pot, you can squeeze your plants just a bit. You just have to be sure They have enough water, food, and sunlight. If you’re planting in pots, like me, you can use any good potting soil. Just remember they will depend on you for food and water. I like the water-soluble plant food, so I can water and feed at the same time. You can make your own choice.
When planting in a garden, I would recommend adding some compost, without question. It improves the soil structure, and provides added nutrients. Don’t work any harder than you have to. Just put a layer on top of your garden soil. So, they’re planted in their pot, with a bottle of water, with dissolved plant food. They seem happy.
In the photo above, front to back, is, string beans, kohlrabi, bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini.
After the first week, they’ve started to grow very nicely. Leaves have filled in and strengthened, and I can see new growth.
I’ve noticed they’re quite thirsty, needing a full bottle of water about every 3 days. If you’re using a watering can, be sure to check daily. Don’t let the soil dry out, but don’t get it muddy.
Foliage has really filled out nicely. I can see some definite thickening of the stem. I can only assume this is the beginning of the bulb. Time will tell if I’m right.
The leaves, in texture and thickness, remind me a bit of cabbage. Understandable, since they are the same family. I was excited to find that the entire plant is usable (I hate waste)
As you can see, I was right. This is a definite bulb forming. I also observed what may be a potential pest problem. I spotted two white cabbage moths fluttering about the plants. I have no idea as to their egg-laying habits. I’ll just have to keep an eye on them, and watch for cabbage worms. I’ve seen them before, so recognizing them won’t be a problem.
I guess now I just wait ‘till they get big enough.
Those bulbs are getting big!. According to what I’ve read, kohlrabi is harvested when the bulb is between 2.25 and 4 inches in diameter. So, I think I could actually take them now. But, I’ll wait a bit. Since I only have a few plants, I want to maximize my harvest. I plan to package and freeze each plant separately, greens and bulb together.
No cabbage worms, yet. Is it really possible I dodged a bullet? We’ll see!
Now, if I’m right, I’ll be harvesting before my next update. When I do, I promise to document the process.
The cabbage worms did, in fact, appear. I lost some of the foliage to the little varmints. But, now I know. If I see the moths, the bugs will follow. I just have to be a bit more aggressive to control them.
I did find that preparing them for freezing was not as easy as I’d hoped. The plant (both leaves and bulb) needs to be blanched before freezing, and the bulb needs to be peeled. I tried with a vegetable peeler, then used a paring knife. That worked pretty well.
I peeled and cubed the bulb, and cut the leaves (after examining them for worms, and discarding the offensive ones) into 1.5 inch squares. Each plant (leaves and bulb together) was placed in a microwave-safe bowl with about 4 tablespoons of water. I zapped them for 3 minutes, drained them well, and placed them in the freezer.
I really wanted to try it in something, so I adapted an old recipe for a vegetable cheese soup. The picture appears above, and it was delicious.
In both taste and texture, the bulbs reminded me very much of broccoli stems (maybe a little less stringy).
Vegetable Cheese Soup
12-16 oz vegetables, cooked (I used 1 kohlrabi plant, including the greens, 1 can of corn, and about 1/2 can of green beans.)
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
8 oz of cheese, shredded, grated, or chopped (Cheddar works well. I used Swiss and Mozzarella. American, Velveeta or any melty cheese should work.)
12 oz beer (or more milk)
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan (or pot) big enough to hold 2 quarts, melt the butter over medium heat.
When butter is melted, add the flour, and combine thoroughly. Add milk.
Continue heating, stirring frequently, until it starts to thicken.
Add cheese, stir until melted.
Add vegetables, and continue heating.
Add beer (or milk) ground mustard, Worcestershire sauce, (and salt and pepper, if desired).
Heat, stirring, until hot.
Serves 2 to 4
In using the kohlrabi greens, I pureed them partially, with the milk. I wanted to incorporated the greens into the milk (I thought it would help thicken it.), but I also wanted to leave some flakes visible. You can puree them more, or less, depending on what you prefer.
The option is there to use either beer, or more milk. My wife hates beer, so for the family, my choice is obvious. If you’re not sure, I would try it with a light-colored beer. You might be surprised.
Kohlrabi is one of the oddest vegetables I’ve ever seen. Peeling it isn’t extremely hard, but more difficult than I thought it would be.
Once the prep is done, cooking and eating is a snap, and it is really good, and versatile.
I’m definitely going to grow this again.