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Growing turnips

Often ignored by cooks and gardeners alike as uninteresting, bland and second best, the humble turnip is in fact an extremely tasty addition to soups, stews and even salads. And as growing turnips is so easy, there’s no excuse.

Turnips are amazing in at least three ways:
First, they’re among the earliest of all the vegetables you can grow in a spring garden, with seeds germinating at temperatures as low as 2 degrees C.
Second, they put down an amazing taproot, sometimes 50ft long. This enables them to bring minerals and nutrients to the surface – and potentially the compost heap – that almost no other plant can reach.
Third, growing turnips is ridiculously easy.

And, all these are completely aside from their taste – which is completely different to everything else in the garden except perhaps swede, which actually a comparative newcomer to the garden scene and is a cross between a turnip and kale.

A range of varieties are available from small, all-white turnips such as ‘Snowball’ that are best around the size of a golf ball, to the flat-top ‘red’ varieties, to my personal favourite – ‘Limousin’, a huge monster main crop turnip available from Real Seeds which can grow to the size of a football – without going woody or losing that wonderful flavour.

growing turnips - red turnip, image

Flat, red-top turnips are best at around 10-12cms across

Smaller varieties will become woody if allowed to grow too large, and as they can be ready in as little as five weeks from sowing (yes, turnips are a very quick crop, too) successive sowing, every two weeks, is the key to having them available for the long-term.

Sowing

It’s probably better to sow the first turnips in modules for planting out later. Once the weather is slightly warmer they can be sown direct. While they will germinate when it’s cold, germination is much faster at 10 degrees C.

growing turnips - seedlings, image

Turnips can be sown direct, or sown in modules and planted out later.

Growing turnips

Turnips are brassicas and are therefore hearty feeders. Give them plenty of compost and decent drainage. They don’t like acidic soil, so a touch of lime or wood ash is a good idea. Keep them moist – don’t let them dry out or there’s a risk of splitting.

The leaves, when young, are a good alternative to kale but quite unappetising if left to grow too big.

Growing turnips through the winter from a July or August sowing is easy, especially if you have a polytunnel – and harvesting them there is much easier than trying to dig through frozen earth outside!

Pests

Cabbage root fly and flea beetle are the main pests, and of course white butterflies love visiting all your brassica crops to lay eggs. A covering of horticultural fleece will keep all of these at bay. If club root becomes a problem in your garden it’s impossible to eradicate, but it can be somewhat controlled. Add lime to the beds to raise the pH, and grow seedlings on in bigger pots to plant out later in the season than you otherwise would. Import new earth to the planting sites so that there’s less risk of infection.

Never accept brassica seedlings from an unknown source, and if you do get an infected site, you can reduce the risk of spreading the disease by washing hands, footwear, wheelbarrow wheels and tools after use.

Harvest

Harvest smaller varieties when golf-ball sized, and at around 10cms across for the flatter, red-top types. Any larger, and unless it’s a ‘main crop’ variety it’s unlikely to have improved. As mentioned, Limousin appears to be an exception to the usual rule that main crop varieties have an inferior taste to their smaller cousins – this one tastes great at any size!

Growing turnips - Limousin variety, image

'Limousin' turnips can be huge - but still taste great!

Young turnip leaves can be steamed, and even chopped for use in a salad. Raw, grated turnip is another wonderful salad addition. Otherwise, wash the root and slice before adding to soups and stews, or steamed as a side dish (with maybe just a dab of butter on top) on their own.

The smaller and younger the turnip is, the less likely it is to require peeling before use. Larger varieties, including Limousin, need peeling.

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3 Responses to “Growing turnips”

  1. Andy McKee says:

    Lots of people seem to have an aversion to turnips, but this seems to be down to having been served them overcooked as children. I converted my OH last year with a dish of young snowballs, cooked until just tender and then tossed in butter with a small pinch of cinnamon. Their natural sweetness does the rest!

  2. Wes Hayden says:

    Usually after a purchase of seeds I’m not familiar with I do a little diggin online to see what info or pics can be gleaned and learned from other folks growing the same and I found this site.
    The “Limousin” in the pic looks great for size, with the added bonus of still tasting good shows great potential as a food crop.
    I started a few in modules last night so see what happens….
    Thanks for posting this variety up and happy future growing.

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