Forget what you think you know about turnips. Real turnips are incredibly quick growing (you can harvest them just 2 months after sowing) and white-fleshed, not like those imposter turnips...says Mick Kelly.
The classic Irish yellow “turnip” is actually a swede which is a different (though related) vegetable. Real turnips are incredibly quick growing (you can harvest them just 2 months after sowing) and white-fleshed. They are generally problem free and very tasty (particularly if harvested when not much larger than a golfball). If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, you might just get away with a sowing now and have a crop of these delicious baby turnips in about 5 weeks time.
Sowing For a consistent supply of lovely baby turnips, I generally sow a couple of small module trays every two to three weeks or so from March until August – depending on the weather you might get away with an even earlier (February) and later (September) sowing. The general advice is that turnips don’t transplant well and that you should always sow them direct – because I am a contrary git, I’ve always ignored this advice and sown them in module trays which works perfectly well for me. I sow one or two seeds in each module of the tray 2cm deep.
They will germinate in about a week (thin out the weaker seedling) and will be ready for planting out about 3 weeks later. Harden off early sowings (no giggling down the back). Plant seedlings out, spacing 30cm between rows and plants. Do not plant turnips where there have been brassicas for at least 3 years previously. Ideally you want to have added some manure or compost to the soil the previous autumn – if you didn’t get a chance then scatter some general purpose organic fertiliser like poultry manure and seaweed pellets. It’s a great idea to do a sowing at this time of the year, perhaps in a bed freed up from another crop (eg. onions or garlic). The turnips will be ready to eat (and much appreciated) in October, before the weather turns bad.
Growing Keep plants free of weeds and water regularly during dry weather. If the soil dries out you end up with woody turnips. Plants won’t need feeding if you have added compost/manure to the soil the previous year.
Harvesting Harvest when the roots are 5-10cm in diameter. This can be as early as 5 weeks after sowing. Turnips will not store as well as swedes – hence it’s not a good idea to sow too many of them. Harvest by simply pulling the root from the ground by the stem, and use immediately.
Recommended Varieties Here in GIY we’re a particular fan of the baby turnips varieties Tokyo Cross and Snowball. We also like the beautiful Milan Purple Top.
Problems Quick-growing turnips are relatively easy to grow but they can be affected by the same problems that afflict all brassicas, though rarely as badly impacted. Cabbage Root Fly, clubroot, and flea-beatles are the main culprits.
For a cluster of small, golf-ball sized roots, sow three or four seeds in each module of a module tray and rather than thinning out, plant them out in a group, allowing them to grow on together.
Young turnip “tops” – the leaves on top of the root – can be cooked and eaten as spring greens.