Growing Turnips

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on November 11, 2010

Turnips are a two for one vegetable.  You can grow them for their tops, which you eat like spinach, or for the turnip itself, or both.  In any case, turnips are cool season crops.  In my part of Texas they are planted around the first of February or in the fall, when the weather is not so brutal.  They wither in the heat and die.

Turnip greens growing in a garden.

The best varieties of turnips vary both with what you are growing them for and where you are.  If you want only the greens, you plant varieties such as All Top, Seven Top, and Topper.  If you want the roots, too, you plant Purple Top White Globe, Tokyo Cross, Royal Globe, and the like.  You can look up the varieties that do best in your area and go from there.

Once you get your seeds, you will notice they are tiny.  This makes spreading them evenly on a row rather a challenge.  Pick a row in the full sun and that is well drained, and make a hill.  If you can plow the area so there are ridges and furrows, that is ideal.  You want to plant the turnip in the ridge so it has good dirt to grow in that isn’t too packed down.  Make a small furrow down the length of the ridge and plant the seeds at the depth on the seed packet.

Sprinkle the top of the row and keep it moist so the seedlings do not have to break through a hard crust to reach the sunlight.  It also helps keep the row cool in the heat.  The seedlings should be up in 3 to 7 days.

If you plant some turnips, then wait about ten days and plant more, then do a third planting in another 10 days, you will have a supply of turnip greens through the frost.  As the seedlings come up, you thin them so that you have one plant every four inches or so.  That way, the turnip can reach a reasonable size without crowding.  The thinned seedlings can be washed and eaten in salad.

Turnips need 2-3 pounds of 10-20-10 fertilizer worked into a 100 square foot row or rows before they are planted.  That would be one cup of fertilizer per 10 foot of row.  You only need to do this once per planting.  When the plants are about 4-5 inches tall, spread 1/2 cup nitrogen fertilizer per each ten feet of row.

Turnips need lots of water, but should not be keep in squishy wet soil.  It needs to be damp, though, so they can develop a good root.  Be sure and keep the rows weeded, as the weeds compete for nutrients and water and keep the turnips from getting as big.

Harvest turnips for greens when the leaves are 4 to 6 inches long.  They get tough in the heat or if they grow much bigger.  You pull the turnip, roots and all, to harvest the greens.  The turnips are best when they are about two inches in diameter.  They get tough and fibrous if they get much bigger.

The greens are washed and then steamed, while the turnip is cooked like potatoes or beets.  The greens can be a good source of vitamins if you steam them using just the water remaining on the leaves from washing.

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