Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lowly Turnips Are Tip Top in the Garden: How to Grow Turnips from Seed & What To Do with Them


Baby Golden Globe turnips in my winter garden.

That patch of ground you carefully tend may still be frozen solid right now, but avid gardeners know that this is the most influential gardening time of the year. And for obsessed gardeners like me, it can also be the most expensive. It’s time to order seeds.

Starting plants from seed (be they edible or decorative) opens up an endless world of propagating possibilities to gardeners. Hundreds of companies offer thousands of varieties of seeds from around the world, all for an extremely reasonable couple of dollars a packet. This means, in theory, that you can fill your garden with a much more interesting assortment of plants that is offered at the local nursery for a lot less money. In theory.

The bargain price of seeds is almost a disadvantage—they’re too good of a deal. It is impossible to only order a few packets. Curled up inside a warm and cozy house on a snowy afternoon, surrounded by piles of seed catalogs full of enticing descriptions, it's easy to believe that you will somehow find the space and time to grow all those exotic offerings.

It's also easy to pass by some of the classic mainstays of the kitchen garden, like turnips.

Many people do not eat turnips, nor do they grow them or ever even think about them. These people are missing out, for I have discovered that turnips, a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, are not only one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but that with very little effort (and no outlay of cash beyond the initial cost of the seeds, currently $1.35 for 600 from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) they will also reward you with bounty throughout the year. Here’s how.

Several years ago I thickly sowed hundreds of plain old Purple Top White Globe turnip seeds in mid summer, when the optimum soil temperature for germination of 80° was no problem.

The productive Purple Top turnip was a popular market variety in the U.S. back in the 1800s, and it has since become the standard American turnip. Other interesting heirloom turnips that are still available today include Golden Globe, White Egg, Ideal Purple Top Milan, Snowball, Bianca Piatta, Navet des Vertus Marteau, and Amber Globe.

Within a few weeks, I had tender, nutrient-packed greens to toss into salads. Turnip greens are, in fact, one of The World’s Healthiest Foods. Turnip bulbs are a good source of vitamin C and have two to three grams of fiber per serving. They also contain the potent phytochemical sulforaphane, which has been shown to protect against cancer, especially breast cancer.

At this point I mulched around the plants with grass clippings to discourage weeds, which was the only work ever required. A few weeks later I picked darling baby turnips that I peeled, simmered in water until soft, and then mashed by hand. Seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper and a lump of butter, they were delicious. This tasty early harvest also helped to thin out the remaining plants, allowing them more space to grow.

As the days progressed, the larger greens were steamed and then sautéed with olive oil and garlic; try stirring in some chopped bacon for a little Southern flavor. The bulbs were peeled, cut into chunks, and tossed into soups and stews (try them in place of, or in addition to, potatoes in any recipe) or simmered and mashed as described above with potatoes.

The turnips will need to cook about 10 minutes longer than the potatoes. You may never be able to eat plain mashed potatoes again after tasting these.

There are numerous other ways to enjoy turnips. You can slice raw baby turnips and toss them into salads as you would radishes. Or you can thinly slice and stir-fry medium size turnips, with or without some of the chopped greens. You can even grate raw small turnips and mix them into your favorite slaw.

When freezing temperatures arrived, I began covering my turnip patch with plastic tarps, and later with tarps and old blankets. I continued to harvest turnips throughout the winter, sometimes digging under a foot of snow to reach them. The greens turned to slimy mush, but the bulbs were just fine.

Alternately, you can simply harvest all of your turnips just before the ground freezes (which is when they are sweetest) and store them at 32°F for up to 6 months. But my method is more fun—and more rewarding.

By early spring I hadn’t even harvested the entire crop. As the temperature rose, I uncovered what was left, and within days I was thrilled to see tiny green shoots sprouting up from the—by then not-so-tasty-looking—bulbs. Once again I had tender, nutritious greens, which were extremely welcome so early in the season.

And it doesn’t even end there. Instead of pulling up the plants, I let them grow, and by late spring I was rewarded with enough turnip seeds for another crop, plus extras I could have sown right then if I hadn’t been so tired of turnips.


Golden Globe turnip greens are a delightful sight in February.

Late last September I sowed a few rows of Golden Globe turnip seeds in my raised bed garden, and while they had a slow start, our winter has been so mild this year that the plants (greens and all) are thriving, as you can see by these photos.

They've survived snow, ice, and even a -3°F morning covered with nothing more than a bed sheet and an old quilt. I place metal hoops and wire tomato cages around the plants so the covers don’t touch the leaves.

I’ll probably never be able to stop ordering too many packets of all those alluring gourmet vegetable seeds each winter, but I always make sure to set aside some space in the garden every year for turnips. Perhaps you should, too.

For more information on starting seeds, please see the comments section of this post.

Sources:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Located right here in Missouri, I have been happily ordering "non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non-patented" seeds from this rapidly growing, family owned company for several years. They offer an amazing variety of seeds from around the world.

Pinetree Garden Seeds

Another longtime favorite of mine, this small company in Maine offers top quality, untreated seeds (plus things like shallots, seed potatoes, strawberry plants, and asparagus roots) at very reasonable prices. Many seed packets are under a dollar, and they also have a tempting selection of reasonably priced garden tools, kitchen gadgets, and books.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

I just discovered this company yesterday (my catalog is on its way!), and they appear to be right up my garden row. This independent, family-owned business in Vermont offers over 250 varieties of organic seeds (many of which they raise themselves). Click here to read more about them. And click here to learn why you should seriously consider buying organically grown seeds. If you have any experience with this company, I would love to hear about it.

© FarmgirlFare.com, the year round foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

37 comments:

  1. What a great post on growing turnips. I've never tried growing them, but I do love to eat them.

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  2. I have to confess that I don't know if I've ever knowingly eaten a turnip. Both sides of my family, a couple generations back, originated in North Dakota and Minnesota farm country. I think those family members, when the got to sunny California, decided they were going to do things differently. :G:

    But you've nearly sold me, Susan. ;+)

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  3. Yay turnips! I love them and their cousins the rutabagas -about which I have Waxed (ack) Poetical myself. (Sorry, sorry that was a chicken-worthy pun-why do they put all that wax on rutabagas though?)
    In addition to loving turnip greens, I love them in soups, stews and mashed in my potatoes.

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  4. I wish I could grow turnips too, *sigh*...but (like everyone else) I'll have to live viacriously through you.

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  5. Ah, my dear, you are writing and writing.

    Sending love from here to there.

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  6. That was a great post. I have hated turnip roots all my life. Thanks to blogging, I started cooking and eating them--and I think I like them. Next I will be growing them. Jeesh! What's happening to me?

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  7. Yum, I love those yellow babies!

    Those heirlooms seeds are fantastic. We should do a seed exchange, I can send you some French seeds :)

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  8. Your turnips look great! I wanted to buy one just the other day, but looked like it was a bit too late for turnips around here... I wish you could send me one. ;P

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  9. I'm not very fond of turnips but I love their greens. I just prepare a salad with them or I love to use them in curried lentil soups.

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  10. Turnip greens are the BEST, and I had no idea they were so easy to grow. If they grow year-round for you, they'd probably be a bumper crop here, lol. Pinetree sent me a coupon with my last order, and I forgot to get some asparagus. Looks like I need to start a new order for at least two things now.......

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  11. I had never eaten a turnip in my life until I grew my own. Then, upon finding out how easy they were to grow--seriously, sometimes they are scary in their prolific-ness--I decided I had better love them. ;-)

    I think they are an acquired taste (they were for me, anyway) but I've gotten to the point where I really crave them sometimes!

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  12. Susan,

    The biggest drawback to being an appreciator of gardens as opposed to being a actual gardener is that I don't get to anticipate spring with seed catalogs.

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  13. I've always thought I was a little odd liking turnips (my favorite is to mash them with new potatoes and mix in a little butter & sour cream). You've convinced me to put a few in the garden this year! So...when will you be offering one-week internships for wanna-bes like me? Seriously

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  14. I just learned to like turnip greens in the last two weeks. I couldn't believe how much I liked them. The secret is that cooking them a very, very long time makes them much milder.

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  15. I'm sorry, Farmgirl, but you've chosen one of the two vegetables I won't eat - turnips and okra. Great writing, great pictures, tho.

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  16. In my work as a nutrition educator for Cooperative Extension, I teach a class on Turnips - how to grow, harvest, store, shop for and prepare. One of the recipes I demonstrate is a grated turnip and apple salad. Class after class this recipe is the suprise favorite. It sounds weird, especially to the largely Latina groups I work with. But to those familiar with Thai food, the flavor is very similar to green papaya salad - which was my inspiration when developing the recipe. The key to the recipe though is to use a thai style shredder (see link below for picture of "Miracle Knife")instead of the typical cheese grater because the shredded pieces are much thicker. To prepare, shred 2 peeled turnips, 2 peeled green apples. Mix together and then add juice of 1/2 lemon or lime, a handful of chopped cilantro, 1 minced jalapeno or serrano chile, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 T. oil. Maybe little salt and pepper. Mix it up, and enjoy. It's even good without the chile for those who don't like the heat.
    http://www.templeofthai.com/fruit_carving/miracle_knife.php

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  17. Hi Kalyn,
    Thanks. I bet you could sneak a few turnip seeds inbetween your herbs. : )

    Hi B'Gina,
    Maybe you should go out on a limb and buck the No Turnip trend! I'm sure there are probably a dozen kinds of turnips available at farmers' markets in your area, lucky girl. : )

    Hi Lindy,
    Ha ha, see what happens when you hang around hens too much? I had a friend who used to slow cook kale with lots of either salt pork or bacon (I forget which) and then mix it into mashed potatoes. She would eat a huge bowl of "green potatoes" for dinner. I never thought of doing that with turnip greens.

    Hi David,
    Yes, you'll just have to settle for looking at pictures of my garden while lounging around in your Paris flat munching on French bread, French cheese, and French pate. And chocolate. Rough. Very rough. : )

    Hi Tana,
    You are the sweetest.

    Hi Sher,
    Thanks so much. What's happening to you? You're turning into one of us!

    P.S. I was thinking that you'd commented before, so I didn't want to embarrass myself and say 'Welcome to the farm!' again, but then I realized that if I hadn't said it before, not saying it now would be even worse. So, now that I've sounded like a completely panicky loon: Welcome to the farm! : )

    Hi Riana,
    Welcome to the farm! French seeds would be lovely. : )

    Hi Obachan,
    Always nice to hear from you. I was looking at turnips at the store the other day, too. Blech. But by the time mine got to you, they'd probably look worse! : )

    Hi Isil S.,
    Welcome to the farm! Turnip greens in curried lentil soup? Sounds delish! I'll have to try that. I bet I could just make a variation of my Use It Or Lose It Lentil & Escarole Soup using turnip greens and adding curry.

    Hi Amy,
    Yes, turnips are indeed very easy to grow. I bet you could grow them year round in Florida without covering them up or anything. So add some seeds onto your Pinetree order. Ha ha, I told you that you'd probably be placing another order! Yes, you definitely need to get that asparagus patch started. : )

    Hi Jamie,
    If only I could figure out how to crave turnips instead of chocolate. . .

    Hi Kevin,
    No problem. I'll send you some seed catalogs. I've got loads of them. Ha ha, if I'd thought of that earlier, you could have picked out what you want me to grow 'for you.' : )

    Hi Gracious Acres,
    Yes! And another gardener turns to turnips! : )

    Hmmmm. No internships planned at the moment. People would probably expect there to be things here like, oh, reliable plumbing and other luxurious amenities. : )

    Hi Laurie,
    Congratulations on the new edible love of your life! And thanks for the cooking tip.

    Hi Kat,
    I'm actually surprised there are so many turnip lovers coming forth. And hey, I hear you on the okra thing. Girl's gotta draw the line somewhere. : ) (And yes, I've tried it. Twice. No go.)

    Hi Cynthia,
    How wonderful that you teach an entire class on turnips! And thanks so much for the turnip and apple salad recipe. It sounds great. I'm so glad you shared it. When I was looking at recipes online while writing up this article, I came across several different "turnip salad" recipes, but they all called for lots and lots of mayonnaise. Kinda shot the whole "healthy" thing to you know where. Your version is much more of what I had in mind. Thank you!

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  18. Okaaaay, panicky brainless loon is back! My apologies, Riana, for thinking you were a new visitor. You've been around for ages (well, a month). I think I'm probably gonna have to stop doing the personal welcome thing. : )

    So did you talk DH into a couple of adorable little sheep yet? Did you explain to him that he's all wrong about sheep ranchers making problems in western movies (LOL)? And besides, he isn't going to be the sheep rancher--you are! Just think: (practically) free lawn maintenance, free organic fertilizer, free lamb chops. : )

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  19. Wow, i´m jealous, i wanna grow my own turnip too =) maybe in a few year´s time I can move to the French countryside with my darling. btw, have you had them raw before? I´ve a recipe on my blog inspired by the Japanese way of savoring this healing food.

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  20. Ugh, turnips! ;) Growing up, Mom used to mix turnips in with mash potatoes. All us kids hated it that way. We couldn't understand how people would want to spoil perfectly good mash potatoes with these turnips.

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  21. I'm so jealous. Being raised by a native Texan meant eating a lot of turnips and turnip greens as a child. I've only recently come back to them. One of my daughter's favorite side dishes is boiled, mashed turnips, like the ones you described, and with the older turnips that aren't as sweet, we just sprinkle in a teaspoon of sugar or Splenda. Turnip greens--I swoon over turnip greens. Canned ones. cookiecrumb has encouraged me to give fresh ones a try, so I'll be buying some this weekend. I guess they cook up like spinach, right?
    Anyway, great story about turnips! It was fun reading.

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  22. This is wonderful. I *love* turnips, and have lately become very fond of rutabagas too.
    I usually roast them with whole garlic cloves. Just bought a copy of "Mr. Wolf and the Enormous Turnip" For my Nephew, but I don't know if I can part with it anytime soon.
    I like the idea of mixing the greens with lentils.

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  23. Hi Farmgirl, great read. I have 75 paper cups full of dirt and seeds that have taken over my dining room and not one of them is turnips so guess what # 76 will be?? :)

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  24. Many of the tomatoes and beans I planted last year were from High Mowing. I loved the results, the plants were very robust, and the fruits just gorgeous.

    I'm hoping my soil will take turnips this year, the past two seasons they rotted in the ground. Very heavy clay, but slowly improving. I love turnips, and turnip greens sauteed with mustard greens? Scrumptious.

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  25. Oooh, and also? Boiled sweet potato and rutebega equal parts mashed with salt and pepper. Unbelievable.

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  26. Thanks for this. I confuse parsnips and turnips. I don't like one of them, so I don't get either just in case.

    I might remember now.

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  27. That's beautiful. Turnips are quite regular used in Indian cooking- as a vegetable to eat with chapatis (indian thin bread) or used as chunks in Sambhar ( south indian tamarind lentil soup) that's eaten with steamed rice.
    Your idea of a turnip mash sounds good Susan!

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  28. In Tennessee we grow turnip greens, mustard and kale all together. To cook they are boiled in water until tender and drained. Then they are "fried"...put in a skillet with bacon grease and cooked dry, until all water is gone. I know a lot of folks think the ole' southern greasy food will kill ya, but my grandpa lived to 99 eating this kind of food. Take a chance and give it a try. To complete the meal serve with pinto beans (cooked with fat back) fried potatoes, cracklin cornbread and green onions. Yummmy.

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  29. I am from Mississippi and that is how we cook Turnip Greens and Root. Fry Sliced Salt Pork in a large heavy bottom Stock Pot. Slice well washed greens in 1/2 inch ribbons, add to pot. Wilt them down, add water to cover and add roots on top. Cook until tender. Serve with pepper sauce and cornbread.

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  30. never tried turnip mashed with potatoes however turnip is great mashed with carrots

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  31. Just cooking some turnips as we speak. I went to the local "curb market" in Montgomery, AL yesterday morning. Then today I "stripped" every single leaf from 3 bunches, peeled, sliced and quartered all the turnip roots and cooked then with a few slices of thick sliced bacon cut into 1 inch sections. I cook them for quite a long time before I season them with salt(be careful, the bacon will "salt" them too). Then I start adding straight old granulated sugar until I get the perfect balance...again be careful but it is more than the aforementioned teaspoon. They are fabulous. The secret is that I strip the leaves off the stems and do not cook ANY stems in them. It takes awhile but with no strings in them...they are fantastic. Because of the time involved,I do this only 2-3 times a year. But in a few minutes my cornbread will be ready and I plan to indulge as I get to only rarely. Nothing will go to waste after all this time spent. I will freeze some and the remainder will be eaten tomorrow or the following day. Talk about good...probably better as leftovers. Just a comment from a Southern boy...but try it sometimes.

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  32. I planted my first garden this year. If I can grow turnips, anyone can! We have a great, almost overwhelmingly large, harvest already.

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  33. I'm surprised on one has mentioned my favorite way to prepare turnips and greens. Simply peel and dice the turnips and boil them with the greens. To me, there's no need to add bacon or fat or anything else.
    A surprising thing about the highly nutritious turnips and greens is they have 5 grams of very well balanced protein per cup. They're 34% protein, in fact (see nutritiondata.com).
    Like the article said, another benefit is that they germinate well in warm soil, which many greens won't do.

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  34. i sewed a patch of turnip greens in september for a winter crop.they are collecting falling leaves. i try to pick them out everyday.relentlessly.frustrated. is this nessecary?any advice?

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  35. Hi Rick,
    Yeah, that does sound pretty frustrating. As long as the leaves aren't completely smothering the turnip plants, I think they should be fine. The might even act as a mulch and/or a little insulation protection from the weather.

    If you have any floating row cover or an old piece of screen (you want something lightweight that sunlight and water can get through), you could lay it over the plants and then just lift it and the leaves off as they collect.

    Great to hear you're growing turnips! : )

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  36. hi. im doing a project on purple top turnips at school and i was wondering, do the turnips leaves always look as big as they do in the pictures up there?

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  37. Hi DevynLance,
    The size of the turnip greens will vary depending on the age of the plant and the variety you're growing, but in my experience, the ones in these photos are pretty much average, with the smallest being just a few inches across and the larger ones getting as big (or even bigger) than your hand.

    Good luck with your project! :)

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