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Do you want to grow a fall crop that produces both root vegetables and flavorful, edible greens? Are you planning ahead for your early spring garden? Turnips are easy growers that are making a comeback as a popular multi purpose veggie.

Planting Tips

Mark your calendar for planting 2-3 weeks before your last Spring frost date, or anytime late summer for a fall or early winter crop.

Turnips thrive best in cooler temperatures, so plan for germination and the main portion of growth to occur when temperatures are around 50F to 60F. Turnip bulbs become woody when temperatures exceed 75F, or if they’re allowed to dry out.

Choose a site in full sun where the soil is loose to about 18″ deep. Turnips don’t transplant well and must be direct-seeded.

Prepare your soil by incorporating compost, especially if your turnips follow heavy-feeding crops like corn. If your soil is clay-heavy, add a bit of sand to improve drainage. Turnip seeds are tiny, so break up soil clumps with a rake or your favorite cultivating tool to prepare a smooth surface. Turnips prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8, so add amendments accordingly.

Plant seeds no more than 1/2″ deep in rows 12″ apart. Drop seeds in a line, about a half-inch apart, and cover with a thin layer of light soil. Another method is to use the tip of a trowel to cut a shallow furrow in the garden bed. Once seeds are sprinkled in, gently backfill the displaced soil.

Containers for turnips should be at least 8″ deep. While turnips do quite well in containers and raised beds, take special care to prevent the soil from drying out.

The best companion plants for turnips are pole beans and peas, and strongly-scented herbs like mint and rosemary planted around your turnips will help keep rabbits and deer at bay.

Care and watering of turnips

Keep soil moist to encourage sprouting, but don’t overwater. Seedlings will germinate and emerge within 10-12 days. Mulch around larger plants to help maintain soil moisture.

Thin seedlings to 4-6 inches apart if you’re focusing on bulb growth, or 2-3 inches apart if you’re simply looking for fresh greens.

Common turnip pests and diseases include mildew, flea beetles, and aphids, though many green thumbs swear that turnips help repel aphids from their gardens. Keep weeds away from turnip plants to increase airflow and proper nutrition to the plant’s roots, and inspect regularly for issues.

These hardy plants, if kept properly watered and weeded, tend to withstand light pest and mildew infestations.

Harvesting your turnips

Mature turnip tops reach 12-15 inches in height in about 55 days. You’ll know when they’re ready to harvest when the smooth, rounded tops emerge from the soil, only partially-shaded from the upright display of leafy greens.

Harvest your turnips by gently loosening the soil around the bulbs and firmly pulling from the ground, or lifting from beneath with a garden fork. If you plan on storing your turnip bulbs, take care not to break the thin skin.

Cut off the tops and store them in the refrigerator for a few days as you would other greens, and keep bulbs in a refrigerator for up to three weeks, or in a cool, moist root cellar for up to three months.

Deliciously nutritious

Both turnip greens and roots have a distinct spicy “bite” to their flavor. Turnip greens taste much like mustard greens, and when sauteed with a bit of chicken broth and bacon, provide a flavor sensation reminiscent of southern cooking. Substitute vegetable broth, a bit of garlic, some lemon and salt, and you’ve got a vegetarian alternative to the old collard-style recipe.

Baby turnip greens add snap to salads, sandwiches, and burgers with their mild flavor akin to radish. Try turnip bulbs as a substitute for home-made mashed potatoes, or added in with your favorite mashing spuds. Cube turnips for stews, or puree them for hearty winter soups with a garnish of shredded greens.

Brush cubed turnips with olive oil and your favorite seasonings, and bake on a cookie sheet for an alternative to country-style potatoes, or add them alongside potatoes and carrots when you’re fixing your next roast.

Turnip greens at all stage of maturity are nutrient-dense vegetables. According to the online nutrition guide, World’s Healthiest Foods, fresh turnip greens are “high vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin C, folate, copper, manganese, dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin E and vitamin B6,” and they are also “a very good source of potassium, magnesium, pantothenic acid, vitamin B2, iron, and phosphorus. Additionally, they are a good source of vitamin B1, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, and protein.”

Turnip bulbs are a carbohydrate-rich source of energy and are a good source of vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium and copper. The root vegetable is also a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and manganese.

Turnips have a long history as a staple crop, for good reason. Their flavor and texture have chefs scrambling to add them to their menus, and farmer’s market vendors are thrilled to sell out of these once-neglected cool-season favorites. How will you use turnips in your kitchen?

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A Basic Guide to Organic Pest Control

It’s winter, so you’re planning out your spring garden. And this time you want to go organic. You know you’ll have to learn to live with the odd nibbled leaf, but there are certain times when the ‘taxes’ taken by the wildlife that shares your garden are just too high. Just know that you don’t have to resort to expensive, polluting and unhealthy pesticides and pellets in order to get your pest problems under control. With a little effort and imagination, you can garden organically and still get a great yield. Here are a few of the tricks of the trade:

Netting and Shielding:

One of the easiest measures you can take against larger pests is simply to net or shield your crops. You may wish to net brassicas against butterflies and birds and fruit against birds and small mammals like rabbits, hares, mice or shrews. You can also, for example, use finer mesh nets to protect carrots from carrot flies if they are a problem where you live. Fine mesh can be sued to protect plants wherever one particular crop might be particularly badly affected by pests.

Companion Planting:

When planning an organic garden, it is best to avoid large areas of one plant, which are more susceptible to disease and pests. Instead, you should plant your flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs in groups of compatible plants that might even help one another. Companion planting is an inexact science but many gardeners do see the benefits of planting some plants alongside others. Some aid with nutrient collection, others repel pests or distract them away from more valuable specimens while still others help in other, less well documented and less studied ways.

Crop Rotation:

When planning a vegetable garden you should consider crop rotation in your plans because if you decide to grow some crops in the same locations year after year, they can be far more likely to succumb to pests and diseases. Crop rotation can not only reduce pest problems, it can also help you to maintain the fertility and usefulness of your soil.

Tricks and Traps:

Organic gardeners have a number of tricks and traps up their sleeves to deal with slugs, snails and other garden pests. Beer traps and other enticements can allow you to get rid of an over-abundance of slugs and snails but really, it is better to try to maintain a healthy ecosystem in your back yard so no one element gets out of proportion in the first place.

Nematode and Predator Controls:

Slugs and snails are a common problem for many gardeners around the world. If you have a serious problem then introducing nematodes into your garden could be a good if expensive option. But rather than resorting to such measures, the first step should simply be to encourage a number of natural predators into your yard. There are some birds that will eat slugs and snails (if you keep chickens or ducks these will pick off quite a few for you) and aquatic life like frogs will also give you a helping hand with pests. Got a problem with aphids? All you have to do is attract a range of predatory insects like ladybugs and other things that will make a meal of the little flies. Good planting schemes will go a long way towards helping you with that.

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