Turnips are yet another member of the cabbage family and have possibly been cultivated from Prehistoric times. The wild ancestors of the cultivated Turnip are still found growing in Europe and Asia.
Turnips are usually a slightly flattened globe shape, with most of the globe being above ground. The flesh is usually cream coloured while the globe can be cream or purple topped. Some varieties have a shape like a parsnip and can be black skinned.
They are best eaten while they are still young and tender and less than tennis ball sized. Sow in succession to have young tender turnips.The root is usually a long thin root, with a few leaves sprouting from the top.
Turnips are best grown in fertile soil, with plenty of humus dug in to retain moisture. Do not let the soil dry out or the Turnips will tend to bolt and go to seed. Once this happens they are past their best.
Turnips are at their best in the Summer and Autumn, and most are not Winter hardy. If you want a similar vegetable that is Winter hardy, consider growing Swedes.
Sow the early varieties of Turnip in early Spring, some 1 cm deep, 15 cm apart with the rows being 30 cm apart. Cover them with cloches after providing slug and snail protection.
They are best sown in succession to ensure that you have a supply of young, tender, tennis ball sized roots.
Pests and diseases.
Turnips tend to be prone to the same problems as Brassicas. Flea Beatle may make holes in the leaves, but it is not usually worth treating. Watch out for Cabbage White caterpillars. When lifting the roots, check for Club root and if found burn the roots. If there are holes in the roots, it may be an attack of Cabbage Root Fly.
The previously recommended organic treatment for Flea Beatle and Cabbage Root Fly, namely Derris Dust, was withdrawn from sale in 2008. The alternative organic methods include barrier protection with fine mesh or fleece.
Storage. They are best used fresh, but they will store for several weeks in the fridge crispator.
They can also be lifted, the green tops removed and the globes stored in moist sand or peat in a frost free place.
In very mild areas of the UK, some cloche protection should enable them to stay in the ground for the Winter. In my view, it would be better to grow Swedes for Winter use.
Purple top Milan. Possibly the earliest variety with a very attractive skin colour.
Snowball. A quick growing variety suitable for growing under cloches.
Tokio Cross. Quick growing, and will grow on to a big size and still will be tender.
Veitch’s Red Globe. An attractive skin colour and will survive some cold weather.
Black Sugar Sweet. Shaped like a parsnip with a black skin and white flesh.