This is the latest in a series of posts that I’ve done about my favorite varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs we grow at Happy Acres. To see my other Spotlights, and those from other garden bloggers, visit the Variety Spotlights page.
If there was a contest for least-appreciated vegetable, I would nominate kohlrabi. Many people don’t even know what it is, much less what to do with it. Around here it is not often found in grocery stores, though I do sometimes find it in an Asian market where I shop. It doesn’t get a lot of space in seed catalogs either, unlike the more popular tomatoes or sweet corn. However, I happen to be a big fan of kohlrabi, and have been for a long time. Kolibri is a purple-skinned hybrid kohlrabi that I’ve grown for several years now, and it’s the variety I want to spotlight today.
In the home garden, I find Kolibri to be quite easy to grow. To get a jump on the harvest, I start the seeds indoors, and then set out transplants when they are about three weeks old. Seed can also be sown in place where the plants are to grow. I like to space the plants about six inches apart in a bed, or four inches apart if grown in rows at least a foot apart. Square foot gardeners usually plant four to a square. Kohlrabi likes a rich fertile soil and ample moisture while growing in order to produce well. It is bothered by the same pests as other brassicas, chiefly the cabbage moth caterpillar that feeds on the foliage. Slugs can also feed on the skin, though the damage is superficial.
Kolibri is faster maturing than most open-pollinated varieties, and this year I started harvesting the first ones about six weeks after setting them out. Both Johnny’s and Fedco list Kolibri as taking 45 days to maturity, while Pinetree has it at 43 days. I usually let them get to the size of a tennis ball or a bit larger. The tender, crisp flesh of Kolibri doesn’t get woody or tough for me even on the larger ones. The ones in the below photo ranged from 6 to 10 ounces each after trimming off the leaves, and the largest one was just as tasty as the smallest.
The name kohlrabi is German for ‘cabbage turnip’, though it really doesn’t resemble either vegetable. It’s often thought of as a root vegetable, but the part we eat is really the swollen stem of the plant. Unlike root vegetables like turnips, kohlrabi leaves grow from all around the swollen stem, as you can see in the above photo. The leaves themselves are edible if they are picked while young and tender. Underneath the purple skin, the flesh of Kolibri is ivory white and nearly fiberless.
And despite being named after cabbage and turnips, to me the taste is mild but sweeter than cabbage, more like a jicama or a baby turnip. I enjoy Kolibri both raw and cooked. The raw flesh is crisp and works well in salads or for things like my Asian Kohl-Slaw. For a real treat, try oven roasting some, which really sweetens and mellows the flavor. It’s also good in stir-fries, soups, and even mashed or pureed like potatoes and turnips.
In the U.S. seed for Kolibri is widely available from a number of sources. I hope you have enjoyed this spotlight on great variety of a vegetable that isn’t exactly well known. I’ll be back soon with another variety.