Turnips are an ancient root vegetable that remains popular for at least two reasons: they’re easy to grow and they store well. Both of these turnip benefits made them an important food crop throughout Europe before they caught on with the rest of the world. The most familiar turnip is round and white with a hint of purple on top, but turnips can be long or flat and have red, white or yellow skin. Turnip greens are also edible and can be boiled, steamed, sautéed and stir-fried.

How to Grow Turnips

 

Select turnip varieties that will mature in about 60-70 days for the tastiest results. The faster the turnip crop grows, the better the flavor. Turnips can grow in cool temperatures, so they need an early start in spring. They can also be planted as a fall crop, starting in August.

Time the planting so the roots mature when weather is cool. If turnips stay in the ground too long or the weather gets too hot, the roots will become bitter and tough.

Prepare

  • Turnips need a loose and rich, well-amended soil. This root crop is especially hungry for nitrogen fertilizer so plan ahead. Spread fertilizer over the planting area before planting the turnip seeds.

Plant

  • Plant turnip seeds once the soil temperature is between 40-60 degrees. Plant seeds about ¼ deep so they’ll be able to easily push through the soil. Space seeds about ½ to 1 inch apart.
  • When plants are about 4 inches tall, thin the turnips to a spacing of between 2-6 inches so the roots can develop without being crowded. These thinnings are delicious in fresh salads. In fact, some gardeners grow turnips just for the greens. In this case, seeds can be planted close together to make room for a dense planting.
  • Prevent flea beetle damage to the leaves by covering the turnip crop with floating row cover. Use the covers right after planting and make sure the covers are tied down tightly so insects can’t get underneath.

Maintain

  • After the plants are thinned, sidedress the turnip crop with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Apply a dry fertilizer on both sides of the turnip rows, about 6-8 inches from the plants. Carefully rake the fertilizer into the soil and water right after applying it.

Harvest

  • For the best flavor, harvest turnips while they’re still small—about 2-3 inches in diameter. Pull up the entire crop of turnips while the weather is still cool.
  • To harvest the turnip greens, cut them while they’re still young and tender, about 4-6 weeks after planting.

Companion Plants

Plant turnips with these companions:

  • Peas
  • Rutabagas

Plant away from mustard plants.

Materials for Success

  • Soil thermometer
  • High-quality compost and manure
  • Turnip seeds for roots or greens
  • Dry fertilizer (high in nitrogen)
  • Floating row cover

To learn more about growing turnips or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center. 

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