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Adding Turnip Greens or Roots for a Unique Garden

It’s root veggie season! Well, almost. To be more precise, it’s time to plant some of these root veggies to enjoy them when the weather is truly chilly. Today we’re talking about turnips — and yes, there are sexier veggies out there than the common turnip, but once you’re done reading this article, we’re betting that you’ll make haste to get your turnip seeds and transplants at the ready!

purple turnips

Turnip Roots or Turnip Greens?

That’s a good question — when I was a new veggie gardener, I asked that one as well. So, the turnips that you grow for their tasty roots (akin to potatoes and beets relative to how you use them) also have delicious greens above ground, and these greens are fabulous source of minerals and Vitamins A and C.

There’s a catch, however — there are some turnip varieties that are specifically developed for their roots, and you can definitely enjoy the greens on those plants as well. But, the turnip varieties that are developed specifically for greens may not produce a good root (at least not one you’d particularly want to eat). So, be aware of what type you are buying so the end use is what you have in mind — and check each of the sections below to learn how to grow turnips for both greens and roots.

What Goes Well with Turnips

Turnips are great repellents of aphids so they work well with plants that are preyed upon by aphids such as, squash, tomatoes, celery, cabbage, etc. Turnips also flourish with plants that take nitrogen and infuse it into the soil such as borage or beans.

turnip roots

How to Grow Turnip Greens

There are a number of ways a plant can develop variegation, but the most common is genetic mutation, and it’s something of an accident of nature. A beautiful one, but an accident nonetheless. So, while some plants change appearance over time as a way of adapting to their environment, the same is not likely true for variegated plants.

  1. Buy your turnip green transplants (Alamo, All Top, Topper, Seven Top, for example) any time from late August to October for a fall crop, or 2-4 weeks before your last frost in the spring. Be sure to check your local recommendations for specific planting times!
  2. Locate a part of your garden that is sunny and has well-drained soil. Turnips aren’t terribly picky about the soil, but enriching with compost before planting is always a good idea.
  3. Plant your turnip plants about 6” apart, and don’t worry about separating small clumps if you have several seedlings in a nursery pot. Turnips grown for their leaves don’t mind a bit of crowding.
  4. Water immediately after planting, and regularly throughout the growing season. Keep the area free of weeds that would compete with their growth.
  5. Harvest leaves when nighttime temps are in the 40s (either a few leaves or a whole clump at a time), and use them fairly quickly after harvesting.
white turnips

How to Grow Turnips for Roots

  1. Be sure you are using turnips that are specifically developed for their roots (Purple Top, White Globe, Royal Crown, and Tokyo Cross are great varieties to try). While you can purchase turnip transplants, sowing seed directly into the soil is the preferred method because turnips dislike being jostled around after they’ve germinated. The planting time is roughly the same as that of turnip greens.
  2. Locate a part of your garden that is sunny with well-drained soil, and amend the soil with compost before planting/sowing.
  3. Sprinkle seeds on the soil surface (3-20 seeds per foot), and very lightly cover with soil. Aim for a scant ½” soil covering.
  4. Gently water in immediately after sowing, and regularly after that.
  5. Once seeds have sprouted and plants are growing, thin them to about 4” apart to give them room to develop their roots.
  6. Check for harvest readiness about 45-50 days after sowing — read the information on the seed packet for your specific turnip variety and use that as your guide.

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