In the 40-plus years I have been gardening (not counting my childhood years, when I was forced to help my mother in our family garden), I have often experimented with different crops and vegetables.
I have always been the person in our household who takes care of the vegetable garden. Even when farming full-time, I liked to head to the garden at the end of a hard day, sometimes with a beer in hand and smoking a cigar. It was, and still is, a great place to meditate and collect myself.
Marilyn takes care of our flower gardens. Like me, she comes by her affinity for gardening naturally, for her father was a farmer during his younger years and a gardener throughout his life.
I was impressed with the tall rows of pole beans, staked tomatoes and the rich variety of vegetables in her father’s garden when Marilyn took me to her home for the first time after we began courting. His rows were straight and weedless. His flowerbeds were admired by everyone.
Marilyn’s flower gardens are neat, too. Our house is always decorated with homegrown flowers and arrangements of plants that are in season.
Both of our children also like to garden. Shelby has the same flair as her mother for raising and decorating with plants of all kinds. Jon built raised-bed vegetable gardens he learned to construct in his high school agriculture class.
This year I decided to try growing rutabagas in my vegetable garden for the first time. I knew they are much prized for a Russian favorite, borscht soup, and many other European dishes.
I looked up rutabagas on the Internet and discovered they are a member of the cabbage family, called cruciferous vegetables because their flowers have four petals in the shape of a cross. Rutabagas are actually thought to be a cross, between turnips and cabbage.
Rutabagas taste like turnips, which I like a lot. They like cold weather, as do turnips, other members of the cabbage family and many root crops. I figure any vegetable that flourishes in cold weather has to be good for you; it should make you feel healthy and hearty, like eating wild game does.
Besides homegrown vegetables, in our house we eat a lot of venison, pheasants, geese and fish that I catch from nearby farm ponds that I know are clean. I give vegetables or vacuum-sealed packages of filleted fish to the pond owners to thank them for letting me catch fish on their property.
Many of the cruciferous vegetables are known for their cancer-fighting properties, especially colorectal, prostate and breast cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, the evidence isn’t completely incontrovertible, however; you can read more at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/diet/cruciferous-vegetables
I planted rutabagas twice this year. The first time I planted them was on March 31, at which time I also planted beets, lettuce, radishes and many other early vegetables that can withstand frost. I planted the second crop in late July.
Most of the rutabagas grew prolifically. Some did not develop large roots and, instead, went to seed like radishes often do. The rutabagas that matured as they were supposed to were baseball- and softball-sized. I thought this was a successful experiment.
I cooked the rutabagas as I would cook turnips; I added some to a borscht dish. They were so bitter and strong, I couldn’t stand them. Every way I tried them, they made the kitchen smell while I cooked them and they were much too strong.
The second crop, which I harvested in early October after frost was supposed to make them sweeter, also tasted bitter. I tried adding a little sugar, butter, salt and pepper, but none of these ingredients improved the rutabagas. (Even their name doesn’t appeal to me at the present time.)
Probably I don’t know how to cook rutabagas, which I will acknowledge. So, somebody – please send me better ways I can use rutabagas without having to apologize. In the meantime, I’ll let the Russians, Germans and Scandinavians consume all the rutabagas they want.
Perhaps someone will tell me I am like former President George H. W. Bush, who took the stance that as president of the United States, no one could make him eat broccoli, another cruciferous vegetable. For sure, no one else in my family would dare try them if I don’t give my blessing.
I hope they don’t scorn the rest of my garden produce, because I work hard to try to please everyone in the family and others to whom I give vegetables. I pride myself on being a good gardener and good cook.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D. serves on the adjunct faculty of the University of Iowa, lectures across the United States and abroad and owns a row crop farm in Harlan, Iowa. He is also a founding partner of the nonprofit network AgriWellness, Inc.
Send your thoughts and questions to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org – previously published columns are available for a small fee 30 days after they were originally printed, at www.ag behavioralheatlh.com