Maybe not the most exciting root veggie out there, the turnip is still a delicious and easy to grow garden staple, especially for beginner gardeners. This plant is a member of the Brassica family, and both its taproot and leaves are edible and commonly included in European and Southeast Asian cuisine. While there are many varieties of turnips which come in all shapes and sizes, the white skinned versions are the most common and recognizable. Turnips can survive light frosts and cooler temperatures but will bolt in prolonged heat, so more temperate climates are preferable for this plant.
The Hakurei Turnip (a.k.a Tokyo Turnip) variety is usually stark white and has an unmatched crispness and tender sweetness. Due to it’s lovely flavor, this turnip is commonly eaten raw which has led to it being given it’s other nickname of “Salad Turnip”.
Seed Depth: 1/4–1/2″
Space Between Plants: 1″
Space Between Rows: 10–12″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–70°F
Days for Germination: 5–10
Sow Indoors: Not recommended.
Sow Outdoors: Sow seeds outdoors approximately 3 weeks before the average last frost. Sow again in mid to late summer for a fall harvest.
Will grow in most climate zones but prefers more temperate regions with consistent temperatures around 60–70°F. If living in a region with temperatures that are regularly hotter than this, be sure to provide turnips with some shade to avoid bolting, or time planting to avoid growing during the summer heat. If covered with mulch, turnips can overwinter in most climate zones.
Natural: Full sun. Will tolerate partial shade.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent or LED lamps. Provide around 12 hours per day.
Soil: Prefers a non-compacted, sandy and loamy mixed soil. A pH of 5.5 to 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished. Tilling soil is a must with turnips so they can have plenty of room to form their solid root tuber, so loosen soil to a depth a little more than a foot.
Soilless: Will grow in most soilless mixes but prefers those that contain perlite.
Hydroponics: Can be grown in hydroponic systems without constant moisture, such as an ebb and flow system.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems, but you will need a support medium such as a stocking or Styrofoam to grow.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Soil should always be kept moist but not saturated. Aim for approximately 1″ per week, adjusting based on temperature.
Nutrients: Although turnips do not require large amounts of nutrients, they will benefit from having a balanced, organic compost mixed into the soil when first planted and added again every few weeks. If growing for turnip greens, increase amounts of nitrogen.
Foliar: Spray greens with compost or manure tea every 3 weeks if desired.
Pruning: Remove any outer leaves that become tough or yellow to help new leaves and the roots grow.
Mulching: If temperatures reach over 70°F for more than a few days, cover plants with straw to help protect them from too much sun. Mulch can also to keep soil temperatures warm during the winter.
Deficiency(s): If leaves turn red or seem stunted plants may be experiencing a boron deficiency. Apply a soluble boron solution to remedy this issue. A boron deficiency is common with turnips because the soil has become too alkaline to absorb it. Lime the soil to correct this over the long term.
Rotation: For the turnip (and other members of the Brassica family), rotation is recommended every two years to prevent buildup of disease in the soil. Rotate with beans and pea crops to help keep soil healthy.
Companions: Grows well with onions, leeks, chives, garlic, and peas. Avoid planting near potato.
Harvest: Roots are ready for harvest when they reach approximately 3″ in diameter. To collect, use a spade to gently dig around the root and lift, being careful not to cut the root itself. For best results, get your spring turnips dug up and out of the ground before ground temperatures reach 80°F. For fall turnips, it’s not as urgent to dig them up, and they can remain in the ground for storage. Apply a layer of straw if temperatures drop below freezing. Greens may be harvested when the root has reached this size as well. Pick the leaves one by one or harvest the whole top by cutting with scissors or a knife. If harvesting the greens, be aware that the more heat they are exposed to, the more bitter a flavor they will develop.
Storage: The roots of the turnip plant can keep for up to a couple months in the refrigerator or in a root cellar. As with other greens, turnip tops can be refrigerated but should be eaten with a week or so of harvesting.
Fun Fact: Before the tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns reached North America, the Irish would carve turnips!
Preserve: Roots can be frozen by washing, peeling, and chopping into smaller pieces, blanching, and placing in freezer bags. You can also blanch and freeze leaves. Turnip roots are also delicious when pickled.
Prepare: Both the greens and the tuber can be utilized. The greens can be steamed, boiled, or stir fried similarly to spinach. The root can be eaten raw, steamed, mashed, boiled, fried, baked, pureed, sautéed, and more! If cooking, chop the stem and tail off the root before preparing. Can be boiled and baked whole without peeling if desired. Just about anything you could do to a potato or a parsnip you can do to a turnip.
Nutritional: Both the root and greens of the turnip are excellent sources of nutrients. Turnip greens contain many types of vitamins such as C, E and B6, and are exceptionally rich in vitamin(s) K and A. These greens also contain significant levels of calcium, fiber and folate. While the roots may be less rich in vitamins than their tops, they also contain vitamin(s) C and B6.
Medicinal: Because they contain the compound sulforaphane, some sources have suggested that turnips can assist in preventing certain types of cancer such as pancreatic, prostate, and esophageal. It has also been suggested that turnip roots and greens can contribute to lowering blood pressure.
Warm your soul with a heaping helping of this Turnip Gratin, a satisfying casserole dish commonly made with root vegetables.