Swede growing - Swede how to grow, tips, varieties, cooking.

When is a turnip not a turnip? When it’s a swede, of course.

What we Irish commonly refer to as a turnip is actually a Swedish turnip or swede for short. Go and ask for a turnip in England, Wales, Australia or New Zealand and you will be handed a vegetable somewhere in size between a golf ball and a tennis ball. These are the true “turnips” with white flesh rather than the yellow of our Swedish turnip.

Swede, photo / pic / image.

Swede, photo / pic / image.

Botanical name:
Brassica napobrassica

Area of origin:

Brief description:
Because it is related to the summer turnip, our swede looks very similar to one above ground. Its foliage comprises a spiral of slightly hairy green leaves with wavey edges. Below ground the swede root (swelled stem), once mature, is a much bulkier vegetable than the summer turnip. A comical way one gardener I know describes its size is “ they are about the size of a teenagers head, only less dense”.

Colourwise, Swedes commonly have yellow or orange flesh wrapped in strong purple skin. Personally I find this yellow or orange flesh much sweeter tasting than that of the standard turnip.

Are they easy or hard to grow?:
Easy, once soil conditions are up to standard.

Varieties suitable to grow in Ireland:

Marian (Reliable and high yeilding, great flavour and texture, good resistance to clubroot and mildew from this purple topped swede)

Ruby (dark purple skin with extra sweet flesh coloured creamy yellow, bred for good resistance to powdery mildew)

Invitation (Good flavour combined with good disease resistance, extra large leaves to aid weed suppression)

Best Of All (Deep yellow flesh with a smooth texture and flavour)

Helenor (smooth texture and sweetness combined within yellow flesh, resistant to mildew)

Wilhelmsburger ( Pale green to cream coloured skin surrounding creamy yellow flesh, resistant to club-root and tolerant of boron deficiency within your growing soil)

Irish stock.

UK stock.

When to grow:
Seed is sown normally from the end of April to Mid July.

Where to grow, and soil conditions required:
Although tolerating partial shade, swedes will do best in a sunny spot. Shelter is also beneficial. Avoid soil that becomes waterlogged or conversely dries out rapidly.

Relative acidity or alkalinity (Ph) required:
Swedes don’t grow very well in a strongly acid or strongly alkaline soil. This is because most essential vegetable nutrients in the soil are soluble and available for use at pH levels of 5.5 to 7.5 (slightly acid to neutral). Most vegetables grow best within this range, as is the case with swedes where 7.5 is about optimum.

If the pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) of your soil is not suited to the vegetable, then soil nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, iron, boron, copper, manganese and zinc start to become unavailable, leading to poor crops. Access to boron is especially important in the case of Swedes, where a insufficient supplies lead to an ailment known as “brown heart”

You can use a home soil test available in most garden centres to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your vegetable garden soil in line.

The application of ground lime will be helpful in countering excessive acidity. As a rough rule of thumb an application of 250g of ground lime per metre squared the autumn before planting/sowing will commonly increase your ph by about one point. However as lime is available in different formulations, I advise also consulting the rates set out on the pack.

If you need to decrease your ph to make the soil more acid, then you can apply sulphate of iron at a rate of 100g per metre squared for each drop in ph point. Apply this product according to the manufacturers instructions and heed safety warnings especially those concerning the use of protective clothing and equipment. An application of 2 inches of peat moss worked in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area will also go a good way towards dropping your soil by one ph point.

Food reserves required:
For long term feeding of your crop, every 10m2 of growing area should have one wheelbarrow load of well-rotted homemade compost or farmyard animal manure spread over its surface sometime during the autumn/early winter before planting/sowing. Dig this in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area to enrich it for your crop. Whilst digging, remove any stones and other obstacles that might obstruct roots.

As a rule of thumb, well-rotted manure/compost will be over six months old, and tend to be dark brown will little if any smell. You should not be able to distinguish individual pieces of straw, hay, vegetable peelings, grass etc., as it will all be rotted down.

A week or two before planting/sowing you should also lightly rake into your growing area a well-balanced fertilizer. Growmore or fish blood and bone (organic option) are both suitable for this purpose. Apply according to the rates on the pack.

How to plant or sow:
Ensure that the soil is quite firm before growing this member of the brassica family. If you need to make the soil firm, you can tread across it gently in a shuffle motion, barely lifting the soles of your boots from the soil surface. Carry this out on a dry day with the soil in a dry condition as well.

In your weed-free and lightly raked growing area you must create a ½ inch (1cm) deep drill/trench with the tip of your trowel. Sow seed thinly along this drill. Close the drill with soil, then water well and label.

Create as many drills as you like at 15-inch (37 cm) intervals. As a rough rule of thumb you can expect about 3 to 4 swedes per metre of row, which may help you make a decision on how much to grow. Any seed not required for sowing that year should be kept dry as it has a life expectancy of 3 years.

The expected seed germination time is approx 10 days. Its time for thinning when your seedlings have produced true leaves, those which are the first set of leaves that emerge after the original germination leaves. Thin them gradually to leave a single plant at each 1 ft (30cm) interval, watering the crop well after each thinning.

Caring for your crop:
Keep the soil around your swedes weed-free. Take care when weeding because the roots are easily damaged.

Do not allow the plants to dry out as this will result in woody bitter flesh and plant bolting. A mulch of some form helps preserve soil moisture, for example herbicide-free grass clippings.

During a prolonged spell without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. As a rough rule of thumb apply approx 10 litres per metre squared of soil area. Carry out this watering in the morning and try to avoid splashing the leaves, watering the soil instead.

At about the sixth or seventh week after seed germination and while plants are growing strongly you can apply a second application of a well balanced fertiliser. Although not essential, a further scattering of Growmore or fish blood and bone can increase the vegetables vigour and make the less susceptible to plant ills. Once scattered the fertiliser should be lightly scratched into the soils surface followed by gentle but deep watering of the soil.

Pests and Diseases:

Swedes being in the same family as cabbage means they can suffer from the same ills as cabbage. After sowing provide protection against birds especially if pigeons are a problem in your area. Bird protection should be provided in the form of netting should be used. Fine netting will also prevent butterflies laying their eggs on your crop, which prevents caterpillar damage.

Other troubles of Swedes include…
Brown heart,
Black rot,
Downy mildew,
Flea beetle,
Powdery mildew,
Soft rot,
Swede midge,
Turnip mosaic virus.

Harvesting, when and how:
Time from sowing to harvest is from 20 to 24 weeks. You can begin lifting as soon as the roots are the size of a large “orange”.

However, to be quite honest I find that lifting this early to be a waste, as Swedes actually sweeten with a bit of frost. You can leave them in the ground over most winters as they will tolerate a moderate to hard frost (-2° to -5 ° Celsius). Left in the ground they can be dug when required.

Some people don’t like trudging out into a snow-covered vegetable garden to lift swedes, so for them there is the possibility of storing the roots indoors instead. The swede roots will keep for four to five months in a area which is cool (2-4 degrees centigrade), dark and away from strong flavours or scents.

Place individual layers of Swedes in slatted boxes, surrounding each root with dry peat, paper or hay. Before placing them into the boxes you must twist off the vegetables leaves.

The young leaves can be clipped for eating as steamed greens throughout the season.
Swede greens can also be introduced to a stir-fry near the end of cooking, adding texture and flavour. However, be aware that this will set back the growth rate of the roots. So best to have a certain few plants set aside for the clipping practise.

To cook the root you must first peel off the outer skin, then dice and boil anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on how “mushy” you want your swede. Alternatively you can steam diced swede for about 45 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on desired texture.

Serve mashed with a little melted butter and/or cream as a side to potatoes. Mashed together with carrots, it’s even better.

You can also partially boil diced swede for two minutes, and then place it around a joint of meat for roasting, so that it cook in the meat juices. Of course Swedes are excellent raw in salads, coleslaw, or cooked in a mixed vegetable soup.

More debate about this topic on our forum,
click The Irish gardeners forum.

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