The Accidental Rutabaga

Something you do today may produce unexpected results. You may think you’ve failed. You may think your efforts were wasted. But weeks or months or years from now, you may harvest the reward.

I discovered this over the weekend as I worked to prepare the garden for a new growing season. Winter had brought us one of those pleasantly freakish days where the warm temperatures reminded me it’s time to start seeds for spring.

 We’re still eating frosted cabbage, carrots, beets, chard and kale from the garden, but as usual, I’m behind on cleaning up. The last of the fall crops that couldn’t survive the cold have become twisted black stalks, and the bare patches that didn’t get covered with leaves or hay have sprouted blankets of shot-weed. Uncollected seeds are scattered around the nasturtiums and calendula like chicken scratch.

As I cleared away the dead plants, I made an amazing discovery. A giant vegetable peeked out under the end of one slimy row. I bent closer. A large, tan bulb bulged out of the soil under a tall, green stalk. I decided it was a rogue beet. It sprouted near the beet patch and had months to grow with no competition, so what else could it be?

I hauled the big root home, and the next day my son came downstairs and spotted it. He has an anti-vegetable radar that instantly detects squash or beets. “Why did you have to grow a rutabaga?” he asked. Then it hit me. Months earlier, I had planted rutabagas in that very spot.

I’d never planted them before. I’d never eaten one. I just like the name. My dad used to make rutabaga jokes. But the crop failed. The seeds didn’t sprout, or if they did, I didn’t recognize them and weeded them out, something that’s easy to do when you’re fighting platoons of weeds. Or they may have fallen to the slugs that deploy in spring. I tried to replant, but somehow used the wrong seeds, resulting in a sunny bank of calendula.

Unknown to me, one of the rutabagas survived under the flowers. With no slug bait, or fertilizer or weeding, it grew to surprise me one winter morning. It was a reminder to me that when you plant a seed or send an email or help a friend, you don’t know what will result. Every action is a stone in a pond, sending out ripples. The payoff may not be what we expect. We might not recognize it at first. But it could be something beautiful, like a field of flowers. Or it could be a rutabaga.

Now if only I knew how to cook it.