Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough

Tips on how to grow swedes


Although primarily grown as stock food, don’t turn up your nose at delicious swedes. Unlike other brassicas, the hardy, moisturelo­ving swede is prized for its roots, which sweeten once exposed to frosts. A wellgrown swede should be sweet enough to eat raw and is even sweeter when cooked. Boiling is the traditiona­l way, topped with cream and served with meat and spuds.


When to sow: November to April in warm areas; November to December in cooler areas.

Position: Full sun.

Harvest: 12-16 weeks


As root crops, swedes are best sown direct where they are to grow. Apparently Southlande­rs swear that the only time to sow swedes is in November. However, for the rest of the country, late summer into late autumn is recommende­d – the warmer the district, the later they can be sown but they need a properly cold winter to taste sweet.


Sow seeds on a firm bed, direct into the garden at a depth of 2cm, in rows 50cm apart.

Seeds should germinate in 7-10 days. When plants are about 7cm high, or about 20 days after sowing, thin plants to the strongest specimens, spacing them 15-25cm apart.


Choose a sunny, open site with freedraini­ng, fertile soil, which is on the heavy rather than the light or sandy side. Dig over the soil before you sow, so the roots can push through it easily. Dig in compost and well-rooted animal manure, too, because extra organic matter will help soil retain moisture.

The germinatio­n rate for swedes is high so do not sow too thickly.

These globe-shaped root crops grow quickly during the early stages and will benefit from being kept weed-free. They also thrive on regular feeding. Dose fortnightl­y with a fertiliser tea made of comfrey and seaweed. If plants do not seem to be thriving, side dress with general fertiliser.

Regular watering is another requiremen­t, because they are quite sensitive to drought. Keeping the soil moisture levels even will prevent cracking of the roots, and corky growth.

For maximum sweetness , leave swedes in the ground until after a hard frost. When the ground gets to a certain temperatur­e, the plants start sending sugar, which is a natural antifreeze, into the cells to reduce the overall water content and lessen the risk they will freeze. For those living in frost-free zones, your swedes will still be edible, just not as sweet.

Harvest when the roots are about the size of a tennis ball. They will store well in the cool and out of sunlight for several months.


Go for ‘‘Champion Purple Top’’, a heirloom variety cultivated in Europe for centuries.

Or try the similar ‘‘Lawes American Purple Top’’. Some growers prefer it, believing its long history in New Zealand, especially in the Nelson district, has given it time to adapt to perform well in southern hemisphere conditions.

Southlande­rs swear by yellow-fleshed ‘‘Doon Major’’ for its taste and aroma. But if disease has been a problem in the past, ‘‘Invitation’’ is an F1 hybrid resistant to powdery mildew and club root.


Swedes, like all brassicas, can be susceptibl­e to club root. Crop rotation will help avoid it. Don’t grow swedes or any other brassica in the same soil again for three to four years.

As with all brassicas, the young leaves of swedes will be devoured by white cabbage butterfly caterpilla­rs, so until the frosts come and kill off the pests, use insect mesh or net curtains to block their access.

Slugs and snails may also attack young plants, so protect seedlings with cloches while they establish.

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