Yes, I know, turnips are far from glamorous. But I’d make you grow them if I could. They are extremely easy to grow and very nutritious. All you need is cool weather and full sun.
Turnips are cool-weather plants that bloom and die when the weather is hot. The flavor of turnips gets stronger with heat as well. And like most greens, the texture gets tougher too. Turnips can tolerate frosts, but not hard freezes, so they should be planted now for a fall crop. Turnips are easily direct seeded into the garden. Once the seedlings are established, thin them to 3 to 4 inches apart.
Turnips require at least eight hours of direct sun each day. Like most root crops, they do best in well-drained sandy and loamy soils and are best planted in raised beds or rows at least 6 to 12 inches high. It is ideal to till in several inches of compost or organic matter and it’s necessary to incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (18-6-12, 15-5-10, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row before planting. In smaller plantings use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal soil pH for growing turnips is 6.0 to 7.0.
Turnips can be grown either in beds or rows 3 feet apart. Open a shallow trench in your raised row 1/2 inch deep with the corner of a hoe or a stick. Sow the seeds 10 to 12 per foot of row and cover with one-quarter to one-half inch of soil. Another option is to sprinkle the seed on top of the row or bed and lightly rake the surface to cover them. After seeding, gently tamp down the soil with the back of your hoe. Water gently and keep the soil moist. With adequate moisture, turnip seedlings can be up in as little as three to four days. When the seedlings germinate, reduce the frequency of watering so that the plants toughen. In order for turnip roots to form properly, it’s critical that the seedlings be thinned once they have been up around seven days.
Turnips are extremely easy to grow. When grown for roots, there’s generally no need for an additional application of fertilizer. However, for continuous greens production, apply a half-cup of a high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, etc.) for each 35 foot of row after the first harvest. A layer of organic mulch (straw, hay, etc.) around them is ideal. They have few pest problems, with foliage-feeding flea beetles being the worst.
Turnip greens can be harvested in as few as 30 days after seeding, while turnip roots generally take around 60 days. Some gardeners harvest the pest-free, oldest (but still tender) lower leaves one at a time by hand while others cut off the entire plant just above the base. Remember to pick them often to keep them producing tender leaves. Older leaves will get bitter and tough. Turnip roots are edible at any stage, but are generally harvested when they are 1 to 3 inches in diameter. They should be washed and prepared or refrigerated immediately. They will keep for several weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Recommended turnip varieties for Texas include:
All Top (greens only), Purple Top White Globe, Royal Globe II, Seven Top (greens only), Shogoin, Tokyo Cross, White Globe and White Lady. Turnips were cultivated by the Chinese in 200 B.C. and by the early Romans. They are native to western Asia.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” “Heirloom Gardening in the South” and “The Rose Rustlers.” You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com) or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science- and research-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.