Turnips are one of the oldest known crops, with indication that people have been eating them for four thousand years. Beyond being eaten for much of history, turnips also have cultural significance. Irish legend says that the first jack-o-lantern was carved from a turnip. It wasn’t until the tradition was brought to America that pumpkins replaced turnips.
Turnips (Brassica rapa) are very nutritious; they are high in dietary fiber, vitamins C and B6, folic acid, calcium, and potassium. This vegetable is also great if you are looking to cut down on vegetable food waste. Some people consider turnips a great source of greens, while others favor the roots, but the truth is that with some varieties the tops and the roots are equally delightful.
Turnips are a quick-growing, cool weather crop. Leaves are fuzzy and green with succulent stems that often show purple coloration. They're similar to mustard greens but are usually not as curly. Turnip roots are rounded and white or white with a purple top; inside the flesh is smooth, crisp, and white.
These easy-to-grow plants are a member of the Brassica family which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard, and cauliflower. Sometimes they are confused with rutabagas but they are two different vegetables, if not similar in appearance.
For both roots and tops, 'Purple Top White Globe' is a popular variety. Some varieties such as 'Shogoin' don't form large tuberous roots, so they are better suited if you are only after the greens.
Planting and Care
Turnips can be planted from August to February in North Florida, September to February in Central Florida, and September to January in South Florida. Turnips are relatively cold hardy; they are able to tolerate frosts and some freezing temperatures.
As with most vegetables, they need 8 hours of sunlight, regular watering, and rich, well-drained soil that has been deeply tilled.
Plant turnip seeds a half-inch deep in rows with 18 inches between each row. You can try to space your seeds 2 to 3 inches apart, or you can sow liberally and thin the seedlings to the appropriate spacing. As is the case for most plants grown for their roots, turnips grow best when seeds are sown directly into the garden.
Once seeds have sprouted and reached about 3 inches tall, you can thin them out to where there are 3 inches between the turnips in each row. Don’t discard those seedlings — they're great in a salad or on a sandwich as microgreens. If you are only growing turnips for the green tops, you can plant them closer together. Seeds take about 5 days to germinate.
Keep your growing area weed-free to help your turnips thrive. Greens can be harvested continuously through the growing season, but be sure not to over-harvest. Turnip roots take between 40 and 60 days to be mature; they should be harvested when they are 3 inches in diameter or less — any larger and they become pungent, pithy, and stringy.
For more information on growing turnips, contact your county Extension office.