Turnips are a classic vegetable offering gardeners three different potential taste and texture experiences. They can be eaten raw when radish-sized, their leafy tops can be steamed and eaten like spinach and their larger swollen roots are a great addition to soups and rich stews. There is a bit of confusion as to whether turnips or their close relative the swede are the ?Neep? which accompanies haggis on Burn?s night. Seems as though you can use either in this traditional dish. ?White? is a popular variety for eating raw. ?Snowball? is an all-white early variety and ?Golden Ball? is great raw or cooked.
Just like the rest of us, Turnips grow best in a sunny spot but they will handle some partial shade ? this produces more tender foliage for those keen on steaming it. Turnips can be grown between taller crops such as broad beans and sweetcorn or alongside feathery carrots.
Turnips like a fine, well-dug soil that is generally lump-free ? at least to a hand?s-depth (So ideal for those with sandier soils). This allows their roots to grow evenly as they penetrate the soil and swell to perfection. So try and produce a soil that you can pretty much run your hand through ? with a bit of effort. Soil should have a few goodies dug into it too ? such as sheep pellets, well-rotted manure or compost ? about a spade full per square metre (short stride by short stride). Turnips often grow well on soil that was composted for a previous crop ? but it is not advisable for them to follow other brassicas such as cabbage, broccoli and kale as planting brassica after brassica can cause specific pests and diseases to build up in the soil.
SOW & PLANT
Sow outdoors in spring (Aug? Sep) if conditions are favourable for a quick pre-summer sweet young turnip crop. Otherwise, the main turnip sowing period is from late summer to late autumn (Feb-May) for an autumn crop.
Best to sow turnips straight into your garden beds as long as the soil is workable and weather is not too cold or too hot. Drag your finger tip across the soil and sow seeds along the resulting shallow drill/trench. Try to space seeds thinly ? say about a finger-tip apart. Brush soil across and pat gently down. Water with a watering can fitted with a rose attachment.
Slugs can be a problem especially with spring sowings ? wiping out tiny seedlings overnight in the garden so be vigilant and use your slug pubs/ grapefruit halves and other traps and deterrents. It can also help to put a polythene tunnel cloches over seedlings to protect them from birds.
Seedlings should be thinned when their leaves touch. Keep thinning as the seedlings grow. For an early summer crop thin to a distance of about a finger length. For large roots in autumn thin to a full hand length between seedlings.
For a well-rounded root it helps to give turnips a steady and reliable ride through to maturity. This means regular watering and no periods of neglect in dry spells. Check soil moisture when the sun comes out ? should be cool and damp when you push your finger tip beneath the surface. Adjust watering accordingly until it rains again. Mulch as seedlings start to swell at their base and keep weeds down.
If foliage is being chewed by pests then try using a Chilli-based spray as a deterrent.
HARVEST OR PICK
Early spring-sown varieties can be eaten raw if pulled when the swollen stems reach radish or golf ball size. Best to harvest before weather gets too hot as they can become bitter.
Autumn/winter crops grow slowly until they swell to tennis or cricket ball size. These can stay in the soil until you need them (as long as it does not freeze or get too water-logged). If conditions do become too cold or wet then its best to lift your crop carefully with a fork and store turnips in boxes filled with sand. These should be stored in a cool dry place until needed.