Turnips are very easy to grow in the garden, providing both greens and a root vegetable. They became popular for the kitchen in the 17th century, but before that the Romans were using the tasty, nutritious roots for cooking. Long before that turnips were used mostly for animal feed, which is common for many vegetables we now serve at our table.
Many cooks think of turnips mainly as a soup vegetable, but there are many other ways to serve them. Cutting the root into chunks and roasting with garlic, potatoes and carrots is a wonderful side dish with beef or pork. Slicing the turnip thinly and sauting with herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano or basil is another delicious method of cooking the root. Turnips are a wonderful addition to stews and chowders. Try substituting turnips for all or part of the potatoes in recipes.
The leaves of the turnips can be used as you would collard greens. A classic Southern dish is to cook up bacon in a large skillet; afterwards saving the drippings. Cook the chopped greens and the diced root of the turnip in the bacon fat until tender and serve with the crumbled bacon.
How do you grow turnips? First, pick a sunny location with light but fertile soil that has plenty of compost, leaf mold or rotted manure (not fresh) added. The soil temperature should be around 40 degrees F. for germination, which will take 7-12 days. The seeds are tiny, so mix with sand to make it easier to sow if you wish. Seeds should be sown on top of the soil, then sprinkled with peat moss, sifted compost or dirt. Water by misting until the soil and seeds are moistened thoroughly. After the seedlings can be handled, thin to 3-4 inches between each one.
Turnip plants are in the Bassica family, and should be rotated in the garden with other members of this family, such cabbage. It’s also a good vegetable to use for succession planting by sowing seeds every 2 to 3 weeks instead of all at once, staggering the harvest time. Turnip plants don’t do well above 80 degrees F., so plant as early and harvest before midsummer, if at all possible. They do well in cold frames, and can also be grown in containers that are at least two gallons in size. Do not let the plants dry out and keep the soil weed free for the best results.
Harvesting should be done early when the turnips are about the size of golf balls for the best taste. The greens should be harvested early as well, or they become tough. There are two ways to handle the harvesting of turnips. Some gardeners choose a certain number of plants to harvest only the roots, and leave the others to cut the greens. Alternatively, you can snip two to three leaves off each plant so that it continues to feed nutrients to the root until it’s ready to harvest. Either way works, so it’s up to the individual gardener as to how the plants are harvested.
The main things to keep in mind when growing turnips are:
-Turnip plants love cool weather, but hate the heat of summer.
-Turnip greens and roots are edible, but both should be harvested young.
-Keep the plants moist and cool for the best results.
Turnips have simple needs and should be popular in the garden, but they have gotten a reputation as a bland soup vegetable when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. They have a long history and many varieties are considered an heirloom vegetable. Consider giving turnips a chance in your garden.
Oasis Hybrid Turnip: Known for being juicy with a sweet, milk taste.
Soup Stock Seed Collection: Cook’s Garden Soup Stock Collection is a nice mix for those that love making homemade soups.
Telscopic Water Wand: this is handy for it’s reach and the seven watering strengths, including a mist.
Peat Moss: A nice online source for peat moss to use for sprinkling over seeds, or adding to soil for container gardening.
Steel Compost Sieve: This is a durable sieve that has many uses in the garden, including sifting compost or soil.