Turnips are grown for both the starchy root and for the vitamin rich greens. They are hardy and are one of the first vegetables that can be planted in the cool season spring garden. They also store well and are one of the last vegetables left in the root cellar before the new crops come out.
Turnips depend on loose dirt for a good root. It is important to plow up the ground well where you are planting them so they do not have to fight packed dirt to grow. While you are plowing the ground, work 2-3 pounds of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 feet of row into the soil. When the plants are about 4 inches tall, work another 1/2 cup of nitrogen into each ten feet of row. This should be placed beside the plants, not on them.
If you are growing turnips primarily for greens, you will want to plant varieties such as All Top, Seven Top, and Topper. If you want good roots, too, you will want to plant varieties such as Purple Top White Globe, Tokyo Cross, and Royal Globe. Whichever variety you plant, it is a good idea to plant one third of your row, then wait ten days, plant the next ten days, then wait ten more days and plant the last third of the row. That way, your greens, which don’t keep as well as the roots, don’t all get ripe at once.
Turnips are sown directly into the ground with other spring vegetables. They will sprout if the soil temperature is 40 degrees F or above. The seeds are tiny, making planting them evenly over the row a challenge. You can now often purchase the seeds in a seed tape for easier planting.
Turnips must be planted in moist soil. Make a small depression in the center of the row, plant the seeds, then just barely cover them with soil. Next, sprinkle them with water. The soil must be kept moist until the seeds sprout and you see the leaves, usually 3-7 days. The tender leaves cannot push through soil that is dry or crusted.
Turnips should be thinned to 3-4 inches apart when they have two true leaves. Soak the row once per week with at least an inch of water to help develop good root systems. Except for right after watering, the soil should be moist but not squishy.
Turnip greens are harvested when they are 4-6 inches long. Any longer, and they become tough and bitter. Pull the entire plant, root and all. Roots are ideal when they are two inches in diameter or just a little larger. Any larger and they become fibrous and stringy. Those seen in the grocery store are often way too large and do not taste as good.
Greens are cooked like spinach or collard greens. They can be quite nutritious if steamed in just the water remaining on the leaves after they are washed good, then eaten immediately. The roots are eaten like potatoes, boiled and mashed or baked.
Turnip roots can be stored in cool root cellars or a cool, dark corner for most of the winter. The greens should be eaten within a day or two of harvest.