Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Turnips
Turnips are a delicious root vegetable that you can grow in your own backyard.Crestock
Turnips are cool-weather vegetables that can be grown both in spring and fall, avoiding the hot summer months. They mature very rapidly and you can enjoy both the greens and the roots. Try this ancient root vegetable that’s been grown for over 3,000 years.
Turnips are hardy biennials usually grown as annuals by the home gardener. We enjoy them most as an autumn crop, seeded in late summer, because they are usually sweeter and more tender than spring crops—and pests are less problematic.
What’s wonderful about turnips is that they germinate in only a few days. Within a month, you can enjoy their bright greens, and within a second month, you can eat the swollen roots. Try them as a substitute for potatoes.
When to Plant Turnips
- For a late spring harvest, sow turnip seeds directly in the garden as soon as the ground is workable, usually 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date.
- For an autumn harvest, sow turnips in late summer. Sow after summer crops of onions, squash, beans or sweet corn.
- You can also sow seeds in early autumn for a late autumn harvest.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
- Select a site that gets full sun.
- Soil should be well-draining and loosened to a depth of 12 to 15 inches.
- In advance, mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost or aged manure. Add sand to heavy, clay soil and remove stones to allow the turnip to easily expand belowground.
How to Plant Turnips
- Turnips are seeded directly into the garden; they do not transplant well.
- Scatter turnip seed. Do not cover the seeds with more than ½ an inch of soil.
- Once seedlings are 4 inches high, thin them to 4 to 6 inches apart. Space wide rows 12 inches apart.
- Thin turnips grown for greens from 2 to 3 inches apart (or, some of us don’t bother thinning for greens at all).
How to Grow Turnips
- Keep the beds weed free, but be careful of disturbing the root of young turnips.
- Mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
- Turnips do not need much care, but consistent soil moisture is important. Keep soil lightly moist, watering at a rate of 1 inch per week to prevent the roots from becoming tough and bitter.
How to Harvest Turnips
- Harvest some turnips very early for turnip greens. The leaves taste best when young and tender.
- Harvest early types after about 5 weeks; maincrop types after 6 to 10 weeks.
- Harvest turnips at any size you wish, however, the small, young turnips are nicer and more tender.
- For fall turnips, consider harvesting just after a light frost (but before a hard freeze) for a sweeter taste.
How to Store Turnips
- Store for up to 3 or 4 months in a cool, dark, humid place such as a root cellar or the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.
- If storing in the refrigerator, keep turnips in a perforated plastic bag. It’s important that the turnips do not dry out, but also that they do not become moldy from too much moisture.
Recommended varieties include:
- ‘Just Right’
- ‘Yellow Globe’ have wonderful golden turnip roots, great for roasting.
- ‘Purple Top White Globe’ are great for an extended production of greens.
- Recommended for the Upper Midwest and Canada are cold hardy varieties ‘Green Globe’ and ‘York Globe.’
If you are growing turnips primarily for their greens, most any turnip variety will do.
Wit & Wisdom
- Turnips like a dry bed but a wet head.
- Young turnips are so tender that you can peel and eat them just as you would an apple.
- Turnips are often confused with rutabagas because they are similar, and people like to plant them together. The two root vegetables grow well under the same conditions, but rutabagas take about four weeks longer to mature.
- Many turnips are grown not for the root itself but for the turnip greens, which can be cooked or used raw in salads. Younger turnip greens will not be as bitter as mature leaves.
- For other greens to use in your cuisine, see the Leafy Greens: Health Benefits page.
If you’re wondering how to cook turnips, you’re not alone. Both the turnip greens and roots are very nutritious. Turnip roots should generally be peeled and sliced before using them. Both turnip roots and turnip greens are usually cooked, but can also be enjoyed raw.