I know the word ‘turnip’ does not ignite as much excitement as say, the word ‘kale’, but believe it or not, turnips are pretty popular at ye old farmer’s market stand.
Turnips are reliable root vegetables in the brassica family.
They are traditionally grown as winter storage veggies, but are now available in gourmet varieties, to be eaten small, young, and tender.
Depending on your market, these young turnips may be more popular with chefs or at the farmer’s market.
Curtis Stone, author of The Urban Farmer has better luck selling turnips to high-end restaurants, and only sells them at the market on occasion.
You may have to experiment to see which of your customer demographics would enjoy these little veggies the most.
We will be getting our advice from these two pros, as well as Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming on everything turnips for this article.
Turnips are a cool-weather crop that does best as a fall crop or a quick early spring crop.
In colder areas, sow turnips in spring and harvest in fall.
In hot areas, sow in late summer and harvest in fall, winter, or early spring.
Because turnips are quick growing when conditions are right, they are a worthwhile winter hoophouse crop to provide an alternative to leafy greens.
Turnips are Brassica rapa, like Chinese cabbage and mustard.
They come in a range of colours: white or yellow flesh with white, purple, red, or golden-brown skins.
Turnip leaves are bright grass green usually hairy, and not waxy.
Turnips do not have a neck or secondary roots.
Maincrop turnip varieties include:
Purple Top White Globe
- 50 DTM (days to maturity)
- The biggest turnip can reach 6” in diameter
- White flesh
- High yields
- Good storer
- 45 DTM
- Smooth skin
- Soft golden flesh
- Best flavour and sweetness at 3”
- 58 DTM
- Smooth white flat-round shape
- Crisp sweet flesh
- Hairless leaves
- The most famous of the gourmet varieties and can be eaten young and tender (35-50 days after sowing, up to 2” in diameter)
- So mild, can be enjoyed raw
- 46 DTM
- Smooth skin
- Very white, sweet flesh
- Roots are egg-shaped
- Grow half out of the ground
- Ideal for bunching before they attain full size
- Good keeper
- Flavour intensifies in storage
- 50 DTM
- Similar to Hakurei
- Smooth round roots
- Pure white colour
- Sweet flavour
- Crisp, tender texture
- Best when harvested small
- 43 DTM
- Beautiful red-skinned root
- Slightly flattened shape
- Sweet crisp, white flesh with red splashes of colour in the flesh
- Best when harvested at 2-3” in diameter
- 35 DTM
- Produces very uniform 1-3” diameter round crunchy salad turnips
- High yields
- Bright white
- Smooth roots
- Have good flavour raw or cooked when harvested from baby to mature size
- 55 DTM
- Tennis ball size
- Bright red skin
- White flesh with some blushing
There are also turnip varieties specifically for growing greens, such as the 45-day Seven Top and the serrated leaf Namenia.
The keys to growing mild, sweet-tasking roots include cool temps, sufficient irrigation, and no competition from weeds or overcrowding.
Excess nitrogen will cause too much top growth at the expense of good roots and may cause cracking of the roots at high temps.
Boron deficiency causes the middles of the roots to turn brown.
Fall crops sown too early in the summer can develop woody rots.
Root crops do best in loose fertile soil with a pH of 5.5-7.2.
Time your plantings so that the roots develop in cool weather, 68°F (20°C) max.
The optimal range for germination is 59-95°F (15-35°C) when germination only takes one to three days.
At the optimal temperature of 77°F (25°C), 100% of the seedlings which emerge are normal.
In Pam’s climate (Virginia, zone 7), they sow a small crop of turnips outdoors under rowcover in mid-March, or earlier if spring is mild.
Pam sows turnip in rows 46cm apart, with seeds spaced every 1cm.
They plant a big fall crop for winter storage, in August or September at the latest, allowing 70 days before the first hard freeze date.
In the fall in winter, they sow in the hoophouse three times, for eating fresh, young, and tender turnips during the winter.
Most growers direct seed turnip crops, but they can be transplanted if you wish.
Curtis plants nine rows, with a slightly wider in-row spacing, about one seed every ¼”
He finds that this gives the crop the perfect amount of space and allows for a faster and consistent harvest.
This method yields about 100 bunches per ped.
JM sows 5 rows, 6” apart, with seeds spaced every 1 ¼ ”.
Early thinning is important for well-developed roots.
Small thinnings may be used for salad mix.
Turnips can be thinned initially to 1”, then to 3”, for better greens from the thinnings.
Then next time either harvest all at once or pull the largest, leaving others to fill the space.
Pests and Diseases
Aphids, flea beetles, cabbage worms, and grasshoppers can all be a problem.
Rowcovers and the planting of insectaries (flowers to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs) can help avoid these problems.
Flea beetle and cabbage maggots are particular problems for JM on his farm.
For these reasons, they always keep their turnips covered with row or anti-insect netting.
Flea beetles are quite tiny, so choose a netting with a fine enough mesh to keep them out. He recommends a mesh of 0.014”.
Netting is preferable to rowcover as it does not create thermal effects in the summer.
Some good info can be found in the Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Aquaculture Turnips and Rutabagas Production Guide for further reading if you like.
The main diseases of turnips are clubroot, downy mildew, powdery mildew, rhizoctonia rot, bacterial scab, and blackleg.
All except scab and downy mildew are fungal diseases.
Downy mildew is a water mold. Organic methods of prevention are crop rotations and field sanitation (plowing in residues promptly, removing weeds).
Clubroot fungus is able to live in the soil for up to 10 years so is hard to eliminate.
Avoid brassica crops in an affected field for 10 years to be vigilant about eliminating brassica family weeds.
Pam harvests small spring turnips and can be pulled by hand, around the end of May, and can be cleared in early June.
Fall turnips are ready from late September (greens and roots).
Pam harvests their fall turnip as needed several times a week, then digs the last in mid-November for winter storage.
For manual harvest, loosen the roots with a digging fork as needed, then pull.
Trim tops and tails can be trimmed in the field.
All foliage should be removed for successful long-term storage. Cut cleanly between the leaves and the root.
Next, wash, drain and store.
Young turnips can be pulled, banded, washed, and sold with tops intact.
Prompt cooling is important to keep the leaves from wilting.
Cut and damaged roots do not store well. Eat them ASAP.
JM harvests young turnips in a gradual fashion, starting with the largest ones, this allows the smaller ones to grow bigger and fill the spaces.
After 3 weeks of harvesting, the roots become stringy and lose their tenderness. For this reason, it’s better to do succession plantings rather than stretching a single planting out over long periods of time.
The leaves of the turnip stay fresh-looking for only up to a week in the cold room, so they should be sold relatively quickly.
For markets, Curtis harvests young turnips by bunching them in the field just like radishes.
For restaurants, he sells them by the 6lb case, so no need to bunch.
As he harvests, he tears off the greens, leaving a few inches, then tosses them in a bin.
They are then brought back to home base and are washed and packed into case lot boxes.
Post-harvest and Storage
Prompt washing before the soil dries on the roots will make them easier to clean.
Storage in perforated plastic bags under refrigeration works well.
Fall turnips keep for about 4 months at temps close to freezing and humidity of 90-95%.
So what do you think? Are you going to try to grow turnips this year?
I think they can be a pretty interesting crop to grow, especially the young ones that you can eat raw, like the Hakurei.
I have to admit, I am intrigued by the turnip, and although we do not plan on growing them this year, I am making a note to try a crop or two next year, in order to satisfy my own curiosity.
Do you grow turnips for market? If so, what are your experiences with it? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers