I was introduced to the weirdest looking vegetable last year. It's called kohlrabi. Is it hard to grow?
-- D. K. of Collinsville
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea) looks like a leafy turnip growing on a cabbage root. It is a member of the cabbage plant family. I don't know of anyone admitting that he knows the origin of this plant, although some botanists say it is probably related to the Swedish turnip called rutabaga.
Kohlrabies are sweeter than turnips and can be eaten fresh or cooked like turnips. They can be grown in early spring and in late summer and fall. Some seed catalogs indicate they can be grown in summer, but I have never seen anyone eat them during the summer even by cooking them as they become too "woody" to chew.
The best results occur when this plant can be grown in cool weather (above freezing). The plant matures within 12 weeks.
You can easily grow them by sowing seed directly in a shallow furrow in the soil. Drop about 10 seeds per foot. (About 1/8 of an ounce of seed can plant a 100-foot row.). Cover the seed with about 1 inch of soil. Rows should be 15 to 18 inches apart.
After germination, thin the plants to one plant every 4 inches. You can transplant the ones that are growing too thickly into another row so you will not waste any plants. The shock of transplanting will slow these transplants down, which will stretch the growing production over a longer period.
You can harvest them about 80 days after germination. The bulb-looking plants should be about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. If they are growing faster than you can eat them, store them in a cool basement or bury them deep in soil covered with straw. In the fall they can be stored this way and remain crisp and fresh well into winter.
You can cook them like turnips but keep the skin on to preserve the flavor. Or you can slice them if you prefer to steam them. Kohlrabi can also be eaten raw or added to salads.
If you plant kohlrabi in spring, you can follow up in that area by planting another crop of snap beans.
My African violets are developing spots on their leaves. What could be causing this?
-- M. B. of Belleville
One of the major causes of spotted leaves on African violets (especially during winter) is splashing cold water on the leaves when watering. The temperature of the water can shock the plant tissue and kill it where the cold water lands.
You should use one of two methods of watering: Place plants in a tray and apply water to the bottom of the pot or allow the water to sit in a bowl overnight to get to room temperature and then water the plants from the top. Still be careful to not to place too many drops on the leaves.
If you water continually from the bottom of the pot, you may notice a buildup of salt as a white dust on top of the potting soil. In that case, make sure to water the violets from the top about every four water applications.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.
Do it now
PRUNING: On warm days, you can begin to prune small trees except for birches, maples and dogwoods -- they are heavy sap bleeders.
SEEDS: Test any left-over vegetable seeds by placing 10 seeds in a moist paper towel. If at least seven or eight germinate, the seeds are still good to plant.