Have you ever eaten a kohlrabi? If the question has you scratching your head wondering what a kohlrabi is, it is a funny-looking vegetable with a cabbage-mixed-with-turnip-mixed-with-broccoli taste.
The kohlrabi is a member of the Brassica family whose members include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and turnips. Kohlrabies are chock full of nutrition and dietary fiber but are very low in fat and calories and completely free of cholesterol.
Kohlrabies grow best when the weather is cool. Plant seeds directly in the garden, start them indoors in early April or purchase small transplants at the garden center. Plant them in a spot with well-drained soil that has been amended with plenty of organic matter and receives at least six hours of full sun every day.
Space plants at least 6 inches apart so bulbs have plenty of room to form, and keep the soil evenly moist, especially when bulbs are forming. A layer of mulch around plants will help the soil retain moisture and keep it cooler, too.
Gardeners without space in the garden can grow kohlrabies in containers. Fill pots with soilless potting mix and mix in some fertilizer formulated for vegetables before planting. Do not use garden soil in containers.
Harvest kohlrabies when they are young, up to three inches in diameter depending on the variety. These have the sweetest flavor. Older kohlrabies, or those grown in hot weather, may be tough and much less tasty.
Cut off the leaves and peel away the outer layer before eating. I often eat them fresh, shredded in salads, sliced into raw chips and whole like an apple. Kohlrabies can also be steamed, sauteed or stir-fried. Young leaves are also edible and can be used in salads or cooked like spinach.
Plant a fall crop of kohlrabies, too. Seeds planted in mid-summer have plenty of time to mature, and light frosts make them taste even sweeter.
There are several varieties of kohlrabies to try. Early white Vienna, korridor and quickstar are examples of green types; azure star, early purple Vienna and kolibri are purple cultivars; and Kossak is one of the super-sized varieties that grows up to eight inches in diameter while remaining tender and sweet.
Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.