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How to Grow Turnips for Beginning Gardeners

Updated on May 2, 2016
Turnips from my garden.
Turnips from my garden. | Source

Guide to Growing Turnips

How to grow turnips for beginning gardeners could also be called "turnips - easy to grow, but hard to convince people to enjoy them!" Turnips are a root vegetable crop that grows well during cool weather. They need well-drained soil that's relatively free from rocks. They need cool temperatures to develop their best flavor and texture, and evenly moist soil in order to develop the round baseball-sized turnip crop. Other than that, they need no special care, and they are fairly easy to grow using organic gardening methods.

The hardest part about growing turnips may be convincing your family to try them. Once a staple of the peasant farm and a standard wintertime source of important vitamin C, turnips have a strong, earthy flavor that may be difficult for some to get used to. They can be boiled and mashed with potatoes for a hearty, tasty side dish or eaten on their own.

Add compost to the soil before planting. The good compost is under the fresh materials.
Add compost to the soil before planting. The good compost is under the fresh materials. | Source

How to Grow Turnips

To grow turnips in the garden, you need a bright, sunny location. Like many vegetables, turnips need full sunshine, defined as six or more hours of direct sunlight each day.

Soil for Turnips

Turnips prefer rich, well-drained soil with an average soil pH. You can mix compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve fertility and drainage. They will grow to a depth of about 6 inches, and the soil should be turned over to approximately that depth, with compost and well-rotted manure mixed in.

Grow Turnips from Seeds

Sow turnips directly from seed into the soil as soon as the soil temperature is about 40 degrees or so. In most parts of the country, that occurs about 3 weeks before the official frost-free date for your region. Do not start turnips indoors and try to transplant them into the garden later. Like many root vegetables, they dislike being disturbed and grow best when sown from seeds.

You can grow turnips directly in the ground or use pots or containers. If using pots or containers, choose ones with sufficient depth - at least one foot deep or deeper. Make sure there are good drainage holes in the bottom of the pot to let extra water run out of the container.

Sow the seeds about 1/4 of an inch to 1/2 an inch in the soil, and about four inches apart. The rows should be 12 inches apart. Water well after sowing the seeds, and continue to water, keeping the soil evenly moist, throughout the growing season.

After the seeds have sprouted, thin the seedlings so that there is about four inches of space between each one. Just pull out the ones you don't want and add them to the compost pile. Weeds can be pulled up in the same way, but no other special care is needed while turnips are growing except to keep them well-watered.

When to Plant Turnips

Turnips are also a good fall and winter crop in the southern part of the United States. They need about 90 to 100 days from the date you sow the seeds to maturity, so plan from the frost-free date, or last date of frost, backwards to the date when you should sow seeds.

Turnips need a long, cool growing season for best flavor. If you sow the seeds too late or the weather turns warm suddenly, the tops may bolt, or set seed. The turnips themselves also take on an unpleasant, woody-like texture, and may become very bitter to the taste. They can still be eaten but turnips grown during hot weather do not taste very good.

Harvesting and Storing Turnips

Turnips are ready to harvest when you can see the tops are about the desired size under the soil line. Read the back of the seed package for an approximate date of harvest. The date may vary according to the type of turnip you've sown. I usually pull up a test turnip; if it's the size I want, then it's time to harvest them.

To store your turnips, remove the green stems and dry brush the dirt off the turnip. Store in a cool location. They may sprout a little bit, but should still be edible many months later. If the turnip gets mushy or looks moldy in storage, discard it.


Insects, Pests and Problems

The only insect of note that can harm turnip crops is the root maggot. Telltale signs include lines, marks, or holes in the turnip root. Root maggots are actually the larval stage of a small fly, and the eggs hatch at soil level and burrow down into the soil to attack the roots. They can attack carrots, turnips, onions and any root crops. The best treatment is prevention; rotating crops annually helps prevent maggots from taking hold. Plant root crops in one section of the garden and above ground crops there the next year. Never plant vegetables in the same family in the same location from one year to the next.

Difference Between Turnips and Rutabagas

Some people use the term "turnip" and "rutabaga" interchangeably, but they are actually two different vegetables. Technically, rutabages are a cross between the turnip and cabbage. Rutabagas take about a month longer to grow than turnips. The roots tend to be rounder and smoother than that of the turnip, but the taste is similar.

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