A Love Affair with Growing Turnips
The other day I was eating a freshly harvested turnip from the garden and I asked Sam, ‘why do we always forget to grow more turnips?’ No joke, we both LOVE eating turnips, yet every year we seem to prioritize radishes and beets instead of growing more turnips! So, let’s stop and talk about turnips for a second, shall we?
Growing Turnips at Home
Oh my beloved turnips! This delicious root veggie is frequently left out of the discussion, but I’m so captivated by their flavor that I’m devoting a whole blogpost to their glory. Turnips are related to radishes and mustards—-all part of the brassica family. Origins of the name “turnip” come from the Latin word turnare (meaning to turn, smooth, or make round on a lathe) and napus (the Latin word for this type of brassica plant) which suits turnips wonderfully! Turnips have this wonderfully satin, dense, creamy vibe that you can only understand after working with them. You’ll have to start growing turnips to see what I mean.
The ideal season to grow turnips is when temperatures are cool. Essentially, their growing conditions and are basically the same as radishes. For mild climates (like Southern California, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego) this would mean from Fall through Spring. As for other gardening zones, I always recommend following a local gardener to see when they ideally start certain crops!
What do turnips taste like?
My personal opinion on the taste of a turnip, is that a turnip is silkier and creamier than a radish, and sweeter! It’s like a beet meets a radish (minus the earthiness or spiciness), with the texture of something more like cabbage. Confusing? Maybe! Another common comparison I’ve heard is that turnips are like cabbages crossed with potatoes—which I think is interesting because you can indeed steam and mash turnips like you would potatoes. Now, I haven’t tried all the turnip varieties out there, but the ones I have grown have been incredible. Regardless, I think the ultimate flavor of a turnip is also going to depend on the variety you grow because I’ve noticed quite a difference even amongst the few types of turnips I’ve tried growing.
I have to preface this by letting you know that if you let turnips grow too large, you will get more of an earthy bitter flavor (not good) so avoid this! Pick turnips before they start to look more woody and textured. Ideally, the outer skin should look satin smooth. I think the turnip gets a bad rap because many times they are grown too large and the varieties aren’t all equally sweet. That’s why I’m here to share all my tips for growing amazing turnips in your garden
How to Start Growing Turnips
Truth be told, it’s March and just about becoming too late for Southern California gardeners to be sowing cool season crops. In actuality, turnips are part of my jam-packed Fall & Winter Gardening guide that outlines the different types of crops you can grow during the cool season here in Orange County. Regardless, it’s still worth a try to start growing turnips right now because anything with a maturity date between 30-60 days might still make it! So, I snapped some pictures of my turnip sowing and growing process this week to share with you! This week I am sowing some ‘golden ball’ turnips, ‘hirosaki red’, and ‘purple top white globe’ turnips!
Sow Turnips Seeds Directly if Possible
If you’ve read about Direct Sowing Versus Transplanting, you might know that I make those choices based on a few different variables in my garden. In regards to radishes and turnips, I pretty much direct sow them 99 percent of the time! My area for growing turnips right now is this small strip of space in my raised bed garden. I’m not going to bother amending the soil any further or adding any fertilizer because root vegetables don’t really need much nitrogen anyway—-and I fully amended my raised beds (read about my process HERE) at the beginning of the Winter season.
To direct sow turnips, simply take a shovel and make a small trench in your soil, about ½ inch deep. From there, sow your turnips every inch or so. I tend to over-sow because we have so many garden pests that eat our young seedlings. This way, the plants might get thinned by Mother Nature, or I can go through later and thin them slightly. Cover your seeds with soil and gently firm the soil on top. Water gently to avoid flooding the seeds!
Another option for growing turnips, if you possibly have ravenous slugs or roly polies that destroy seedlings, is to multi-sow them in cells. Is it slightly more work? Yes! But I do this with my beets and it has been going swimmingly! Multi-sowing is a method I learned from Charles Dowding, as he does this with quite a few different crops such as beets, onions, turnips, leeks, and even radishes. If you plan to try this, you can follow what I do in my post that’s all about growing better beets!
Watering Turnips for success
As with many root vegetable crops, it’s all about maintaining consistent water levels. Much like radishes and beets, turnips don’t have super deep roots to begin with, so it’s important that you keep the top few inches nice and moist while they start to grow. If turnips get heat stressed or lack water, their flavor will suffer. Essentially, their care is very similar to many other root crops in that way. In fact, I recently harvested a bunch of carrots that were kept evenly moist while growing and they were deliciously sweet and crunchy! From my experience, watering with a watering can in the early stages of development is a great way to make sure the young seedlings don’t dry out. As the turnips grow deeper, you can depend more on what you typically use to irrigate your garden.
Thinning Turnip Seedlings
If I’m using the multi-sow method for growing turnips, each cell is already thinned down to 3-4 turnips per cell. Therefore, as long as I space them apart in the garden when transplanting, I no longer need to worry about thinning.
Alternatively, if I’m direct sowing in a trench like in the picture above, I sow my seed pretty close to ensure I get enough germinated. Afterwards, I do tend to thin my turnips because they are more wide, round, and squat so they need space on each side to truly grow in well. In order to thin them properly, I envision the mature size of the turnip (stated on the seed packet) and thin my plants approximately that far apart—-keeping them slightly closer.
Varieties of Turnips I Love
Okay, so what are the best turnips to grow? While this answer might depend on how you plan to use your turnips, I can give you an idea of what I’ve tried here in my garden in Orange County, CA zone 10b.
First, the sweetest I’ve tasted so far is the ‘silky sweet’ turnip. If the name isn’t a dead giveaway, this turnip was bred to be sweet enough to eat raw. The texture is creamy and feels like satin. It’s luscious. I personally like this variety for eating raw, in salads, or lightly roasted in a pan.
Second, a turnip that grew very well for me is the ‘golden ball’ turnip. This is the turnip featured in some of my photos at a later stage in its life. I let it grow too big and I definitely noticed the texture become tougherand more fibrous, but overall it was still delicious. I’d grow these every year for roasting in a delicious root vegetable medley along with beets and sweet potatoes. Additionally, ‘golden ball’ turnips are great candidates for steaming and mashing like mashed potatoes.
I’ve also grown a white turnip with a purple top called ‘purple top white globe’. This one was an heirloom variety that was okay. Not my favorite. Knowing how deliciously creamy and sweet other varieties of turnips can be, this one just didn’t make the list. Now if you do end up growing the purple-top turnips, I find these to be better for cooked purposes (like roasting) or maybe as a mashed dish with both potatoes and turnips.
Turnips & Pests
If you plan on growing turnips, you’ll notice the usual culprits in their demise—birds, slugs, roly polies, or digging critters. I cover most of my baby seedlings with garden mesh (one that doesn’t trap any heat because turnips are a cool season veggie) that prevents the birds and digging critters. That’s all I do as far as protecting my turnip beds, and I leave the rest to chance! As with most things gardening, there will be losses and hard times. If you want to learn about the metal garden hoops and different types of row covers that I utilize, you can check out my DIY Fabric Garden Covers post. While I’m using a frost cloth there, the same materials/setup apply, but I just change out the fabric depending on what I’m growing in the garden.
Eating turnips & Their Greens
Are you familiar with how much I enjoy eating radish greens? Growing up, we actually liked eating radish greens more than the radishes themselves! We would wilt the leaves into Vietnamese soups and serve over rice, or saute them with some garlic before plopping a fried egg over top for breakfast. Thankfully, turnip greens are edible too! I don’t have as much experience eating them as I didn’t grow up with turnips, but I’ve tried turnip greens sauteed with some bacon and garlic. Delish! Radish and turnip greens are always best to eat when they aren’t too mature. You want your turnip greens to be bright green and fresh! If the greens are too damaged, old, or just not looking good compost them!
As for eating turnips, I’ve shared my favorite ways to eat them already in the “varieties I love” discussion, but let me urge you to try mashing them! I cube up my turnips, steam or boil them until tender, and make a mash with butter, salt, and pepper (sometimes milk). Often, I don’t peel my turnips unless the skin looks rough. Your delicious turnips can also be mashed with potatoes for a totally unique flavor!
Give Turnips a Chance
So, have I convinced you to try growing some turnips? If you already grow them, anything you’d like to add to the conversation? I’m hoping that sowing before this next rain is going to set these spring turnips up for success! Stay tuned for my next blogpost as I’m writing about an extremely special spring delicacy!