Sweet, Sweet Swedes
Neeps, turnips and snaggers - a history of the humble swede
Get the lowdown on this classic winter vegetable from John Richards, Farm Manager at Riverford Organic Farm.
The swede originated in Europe and was used by the Romans, Gauls and Germanic tribes in their stews. Swede is, infact, a large yellow turnip and the name is an abbreviation for ‘Swedish turnip’. It’s known as ‘rutabaga’ in America, ‘neeps’ in Scotland and ‘snaggers’ in North East England!
Swedes are a hardy crop that grow well in cool, moist climates. They grow best in slightly lower fertility soils, as this avoids excessive leafy top growth that can soon lead to a nasty condition called neck rot. At Riverford we grow 9 acres of swede each year producing around 80 tonnes for the veg boxes. It’s best sown as a seed which is drilled in June and quickly covered with Wondermesh. This crop cover is vital to keep out flea beetle and cabbage root fly.
The other key problem to manage is the condition brown heart, caused by a deficiency of boron in the soil. Boron is needed by the plant to manufacture the cell walls and is easily leached out of the soil by heavy summer rainfall. If not enough is available during periods of rapid growth the cell walls can collapse and this manifests itself as the brown breakdown in the centre of the swede. Fortunately, the Soil Association allow organic growers to spray on natural liquid boron periodically through the season to avoid this.
The main variety we grow is airlie which is ready to harvest from late October. They have a good flavour, with a shape that is slightly pointier at the bottom and seem to be less susceptible to brown heart than other varieties of swede we’ve tried.
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