Turnips (Brassica campestris L.) are an easy to grow root vegetable that has multiple uses. Unlike some vegetable which needs to be consumed within days, turnips can quite happily sit in the fridge for months before being eaten. It makes sense to grow turnips in your veg patch!
You can use them to make soups, eat them raw or even baked, boil and mash them! They’re fantastic as one of your daily veg.
As with any root vegetable, turnips do well along with carrots and radishes. They are easy to care for and can be planted either in the spring, so you have turnips all summer, or in late summer for autumn. Here’s how to grow turnips.
Interesting turnip facts!
Turnips are part of the mustards family of plants and are related to radishes, mustard, and collard greens.
As a versatile plant, you can eat both the turnip’s roots and its leafy greens.
Most turnip varieties have a slightly spicy taste if eaten raw.
Turnips are sometimes grown to feed livestock as they are affordable and always produce a plentiful crop.
Before people carved lanterns on Halloween, they carved turnips to frighten evil spirits!
To successfully grow turnips, you’ll want to plant them in a sunny area of your veg patch as they prefer full sun. They will, however, tolerate partial shade, especially if you plan on harvesting the plant for its greens.
Plant your turnip seeds in well-draining soil as this will prevent them from rotting and give them a boost. If you have heavy or clay soil, add sand as this will allow turnips to expand. Also, remove any stones in the soil.
Before planting, add an 8 cm layer of compost or aged manure and let it rot into the soil.
There are plenty of turnip varieties, including some interesting European ones. Each with their own unique taste. A few favourites include:
(Maincrop) White fleshed with round roots – excellent for turnip tops.
(Maincrop) Small, round yellow variety, with succulent flesh.
‘Tokyo Cross’ AGM
(Summer or early) Very fast growing with small, white, tasty roots.
‘Purple Top Milan’
(Summer or early) Flattish roots with purple markings and white flesh. It’s tender when young and early maturing, with an excellent flavour.
(Summer or early) Has virus-resistant white roots and is delicious eaten raw.
As turnips don’t transplant well, you want to seed directly into the soil. Start by preparing the soil with a good raking, as you would for any plant. Scatter seed over the soil and cover with 2 cm of soil.
As seedlings grow to about 10 cm tall, start to thin them so that plants are around 10 cm apart. Thin rows so that they are 30 cm apart. Overcrowding may cause small roots.
You can extend your harvest by planting seeds at ten-day intervals.
How to nurture turnips
As they don’t need that much care, it’s fairly easy to grow turnips. You’ll want to keep your vegetable patch weed-free and watered. However, be careful not to disturb the roots of young turnips.
Keep the soil lightly moist by regularly watering them a little and often. Also, it’s worth adding mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Harvesting largely depends on when you plant your turnips, typically they are ready for harvesting 30 to 60 days after planting. That said, you want to be carefully not to disturb the roots of turnips around the ones you’re removing.
Depending on how you plan to use them, you can pull the turnips from May to September. If you’re eating raw, harvest when they’re the size of a golf ball. If planning to cook your turnips, leave longer, until they’re the size of a tennis ball.
Harvest when the size of a golf ball from mid-October.
Harvest leaves in March and April as they taste best when young and tender. However, don’t pick the turnips as they’ll re-sprout and provide several cuts.
How to store fresh turnips
As a hardy veg, turnips can survive up to 3 or 4 months in a cool, dark, humid place such as your refrigerator’s vegetable draw or in a cellar.
Ideally, you would keep turnips in a perforated plastic bag as this should regulate the moisture content. Too much damp and they’ll start to go mouldy. Not enough moisture and they’ll dry out.
Turnips also freeze well and can be frozen a few different ways: roasted, diced and blanched, or cooked and mashed. This allows you to only some of your crop as and when you need.
Common pests and problems
Pests and disease are a natural evil of growing vegetables and plants. With turnips, our best advice is to practice crop rotation each growing season and don’t plant a vegetable in the same spot more than two years.
There are a few common pests and problems to look out for and treat when you grow turnips.
This appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface. Leaves become stunted and shrivel. Avoid powdery mildew by growing in cooler locations and keeping the soil moist.
Several kinds of aphids can plague turnips and can kill your crop. However, you can prevent them from settling by surrounding your plants with reflective mulch like silver-coloured plastic.
Cabbage root fly
Causing plants to wilt and die, cabbage root fly larvae feed on the roots just below the soil surface. Seedlings are most vulnerable. Use an insect-proof mesh or horticultural fleece to protect your plants.
Roots become swollen and distorted, and leaves become pale and yellow and wilt easily. Plants may die. Improve your soil’s drainage and increase its alkaline pH by adding lime. Do not grow in affected soil.
That’s how to grow turnips!
Turnips are a fantastic addition to any veg patch and like potatoes and sweetcorn are easy to grow. Plus, they always provide a plentiful crop. And now you know how to grow turnips, you can enjoy them all year round in a variety of dishes all year round!