Combine rich soil and cool temperatures to grow the perfect turnip.

April 15, 2011

Fast-growing turnips thrive in cool temperatures; hot weather makes the leaves tough and the roots woody and bitter. Ample moisture and temperatures of 50° to 70°F encourage rapid growth and a high-quality crop. Enjoy the roots and tops either raw or cooked.

Rutabagas are related to turnips, but they take a month longer to grow. Bake rutabaga roots whole; or chop, boil, and mash them.
Planting: Turnips thrive in well-drained, deeply worked soil on a sunny site. 
Plant seeds outdoors 3 weeks before the last frost in spring. The soil must be at least 40°F for germination, which takes from 7 to 14 days. Fall crops of turnips are often sweeter and provide a longer harvest period than spring plantings. For a fall harvest, plant in midsummer about 2 months before the first frost. Plant rutabagas for fall harvest only.
Sow spring crops ¼ inch deep and fall crops ½ inch deep. Broadcast the seeds, and later thin them to 3 to 4 inches apart, or plant seeds in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.
Growing guidelines: Keep the soil evenly moist to promote fast growth and the best flavor. When plants are 5 inches tall, apply a mulch at least 2 inches thick. No extra fertilizer is necessary in well-prepared soil. 
Problems: See Cabbage entry for details on pest and disease control
Harvesting: Harvest greens when they’re large enough to pick. If you plan to harvest both leaves and roots from a single planting, remove only 2 or 3 leaves per plant. Small roots are the most tender, so pull when they are 1 to 3 inches in diameter. It’s easy to harvest small turnips growing in light garden soil simply by hand pulling them. For large storage roots, though, try loosening the soil by inserting a spading fork beside the row first. To store the roots, twist off the tops, leaving ½ inch of stem. Place undamaged roots in a cool, dark place, such as a basement or root cellar. Don’t wash off soil that clings to roots; it helps protect roots in storage. They will keep for several months. You can also leave your fall crop in the ground until early winter (or throughout winter in mild climates) by covering them with a thick mulch. 

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