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Turnips thrive in well-drained, deeply worked soil on a sunny site. Plant seeds outdoors three weeks before the last frost in spring. The soil must be at least 40 degrees 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 two 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 three to four inches apart, or plant seeds in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.
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Keep the soil evenly moist to promote fast growth and the best flavor. When plants are five inches tall, apply a mulch at least two inches thick. No extra fertilizer is necessary in well-prepared soil.
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Harvest greens when they’re large enough to pick. If you plan to harvest both leaves and roots from a single planting, remove only two or three leaves per plant. Small roots are the most tender, so pull when they are one to three 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.