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.
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.
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?