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A swede plant growing in a garden bed
Swedes are a wonderful cool season vegetable, imparting a warm, hearty flavour to winter soups and roasts. They’re often confused with turnips or called Swedish turnips, but while they are related, they’re not the same. Swedes grow into a large, round root vegetable with white and purple skin and creamy yellow flesh, while turnips are white.

What you need to know about swedes

Name: swede, Swedish turnip, rutabaga, neeps (Brassica napus var. napobrassica).

Height: 30–40cm.

Plant type: annual root vegetable.

Foliage: large, wavy and green leaves. 

Climate: suitable for all climates.

Soil: deep, well-drained soil enriched with well-composted manure.

Position: full sun.

Flowering and fruiting: spikes with small yellow flowers that are not typically seen, as plants are harvested before they flower.

Feeding: not required.

Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Appearance and characteristics of swedes

Swedes are cool season vegies with a long growing window, taking 12–18 weeks to mature. Despite this, they are fairly undemanding, save for regular watering. 

The edible swollen ‘root’ is actually an enlarged, bulbous stem with rough skin that’s creamy white and partly purple. As plants develop and grow, the ‘root’ becomes more exposed, so it appears to sit on or near the soil surface when ready. 

The large waxy, grey-green leaves are reminiscent of those of a cabbage – they belong to the same family – and emerge from a distinct neck on top of the swollen ‘root’.

Close-up of swedes (vegetables)

Uses for swedes

Swedes have a smooth, creamy texture with a savoury aftertaste. They work wonderfully as a potato substitute and can be stir-fried, roasted, pureed, steamed, braised or thrown into soups.

How to plant and grow swedes

Swedes should be sown during the cooler months. In cool and warm temperate climates, sow seeds from late summer, and from mid-autumn in sub-tropical and tropical zones. Choose a position in full sun with well-drained soil. Loosen the soil and improve with blood and bone or well-aged cow manure. Seeds can be sown direct in garden beds or pots, or raised indoors in a seedling tray, ready for planting when conditions are cooler. 

Sow seeds in a 1cm-deep furrow, lightly cover and gently water. Once seedlings appear, thin out to allow 15–20cm spacing between each plant. Plant excess seedlings elsewhere in the garden.

How to care for swedes

Swedes are easy-to-grow, hardy plants. Regular weeding and watering and a light feed during the season will keep them happy. 

How often should you water and feed swedes?

Water regularly as needed to keep the soil moist. This may mean only every 2–3 days, especially as the weather is cooler. Spread a layer of organic mulch over the soil to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Feeding isn’t necessary, especially if the soil has been improved with organic matter prior to planting. However, a light application of an organic pelletised fertiliser halfway through the growing season can help with growth and flavour development.

How and when to harvest swedes

Swedes are ready to harvest in 12–18 weeks. They can be harvested earlier, but it’s best to wait until frost or the coldest days have passed before picking, as this can help sweeten the flavour. Only harvest as required – swedes keep better in the ground than they do in the fridge. 

Diseases and pests that affect swedes

There are a few leaf-eating pests that trouble swedes – flea beetles, snails and slugs and caterpillars can occasionally be found munching on the foliage. Swedes are unperturbed by their presence, but if control is necessary use suitable baits or sprays. 

How to propagate swedes

Swedes are best grown from seed.

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets. 

If you like this then try

Fennel: a beautiful, aniseed flavoured vegie that is ideal for salads and roasts.

Parsnip: with its starchy, earthy-flavoured taproot it's considered to be one of the best tasting root vegies.

Sweet potato: a delightfully sweet, starchy root vegetable that needs room to grow.

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