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Growing Turnips

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Growing Turnips

'Golden Ball' turnips are small and tender, wonderful for eating fresh or grilling whole.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview:

Turnips are a versatile crop. Like beets, they can be grown for greens or for the bulb. They grow fairly quickly, maturing in about 2 months, so you can get more than one harvest in a season. However the bulbs form best in cool weather, around 60 F., so early spring and fall crops are favored.

We are most familiar with the white and purple tennis ball-sized turnips commonly sold, but there is a good deal of variety, including small, tender radish-sized turnips. Turnips are in the Brassicaceae or mustard family and their green tops have a flavor that is similar to mustard greens. They have been cultivated for centuries.

Description:

Turnips have mustard-like leaves and their bulbs are generally either white or yellow. The part of the bulb that protrudes above ground and is exposed to sunlight will change color to purple or green.
  • Leaves: Leaves are light green and slightly hairy. They grow into an elongated oval, with toothed or wavy edges.

  • Flowers: The flowers are small and yellow. As with other Brassica plants, the 4 petals form a cross, which is why they are also referred to as cruciferous vegetables.

Botanical Name:

Brassica rapa

Common Name:

Turnips

Exposure:

Full sun to Partial Shade.

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Turnips are biennials grown as an annual crop. They may go to seed in their first year, if they were planted early in the spring.

Mature Plant Size:

12 - 18" (h) x 6 - 8" (w)

When to Harvest:

Turnip greens can be harvested anytime after they reach 4 inches tall. If you don't harm the top of the bulb, the greens will continue to regrow. The bulbs are best when they are small and tender, around 2 - 3 inches in diameter. Older turnips can get tough or pithy. Fall planted turnips can be left in the ground and harvested into the winter, since they are no longer actively growing. A layer of mulch will help prevent freezing and the cold weather will sweeten their flavor.

Uses:

Tender, new turnips can be eaten raw. They have some of the mature turnip tang, but slightly tempered. You can chop them into salads or wedge them for crudite.

Larger turnips can be baked or used in stews, but like most root vegetables, they are fantastic roasted. Older, woodier turnips can still be used for mashing or for soups and stews.

If you are going to store your turnips, remove the leaves first, or the leaves will continue to draw energy and nutrients from the bulbs. Use the greens ASAP. The bulbs can be stored in the fridge or any cool, dark place, for months.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Alltop - Bred for its greens. Fast growing and will re-spout quickly after harvest. (35 days)

  • Golden Ball Small, sweet yellow bulbs with a faint almond taste. (60 days)

  • Purple Top White Globe - Most popular variety because it grows so well. (55 days)

  • Scarlet Queen - Bright red outside, white inside. Slow to turn pithy (45 days )

  • Shogoin - Grown for its broad, mild greens, but the bulb is also good. (45 days )

  • Tokyo Cross - AAS winner. Very uniform, quick growing and slow to turn pithy. (35 days)

Growing Tips:

Soil: Turnips prefer a slightly acidic soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Good soil fertility will help them grow quickly and make sure the soil is well-draining, so the bulbs don't rot.

Planting:Turnips grow best in cool weather and are direct seeded in the garden either in early spring or in the fall, about 70 days before your first frost date. Plant seeds about ½ inch deep.

When the plants are 3 - 4 inches tall, thin them to 2 - 4 inches apart. You can use the thinned out plants as greens.

For a prolonged harvest, succession plant every 10 - 14 days.

Maintenance:

At least an inch of water per week is vital for good root development. Turnips need to grow quickly and regular water, along with a rich soil, will help them do that.

Since they grow so quickly, you shouldn't need to fertilize your plants. Just make sure the soil has plenty of organic matter in it, before you plant.

Pests & Problems:

Diseases: Turnips are prone to all the usual problems associated with growing Brassicas, including: anthracnose, clubroot, leaf spot, scab, turnip mosaic virus, rhizoctonia rot, root knot and white rust. The best way to prevent these diseases is to avoid planting any Brassica in the same spot for more than 2 years in a row. For clubroot, waiting 6 years to grow Brassicas in the same area is recommended.

Insects: Insect pests include: Turnip aphids and flea beetles, which damage the greens. Row covers can be used to keep them off the leaves. Root maggots and wireworms cause more of a problem because they damage the bulbs.

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