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Turnips grow wild in Siberia and have been eaten since prehistoric times. Rutabagas are a cross between cabbage and turnip.
Turnips are easy to grow if sown in the proper season. They mature in two months and may be planted either in the spring, late summer or fall for roots or greens. The spring crop is planted for early summer use. The fall crop, which is usually larger and of higher quality, is often stored for winter use.
Because rutabagas require 4 weeks longer to mature than turnips, they are best grown as a fall crop. The leaves are smoother and the roots are rounder, larger and firmer than those of turnips. Rutabaga is most commonly grown in the northern tier of states and Canada but should perform fairly well anywhere there is a fairly long cool period in the autumn or early winter.
Turnip (white-fleshed unless noted):
Just Right (hybrid - 28 days to harvest for greens and 60 days for roots; smooth, high quality, mild roots, pure white; for fall)
Gilfeather (75 days; Vermont heirloom; egg-shaped, uniform, large; creamy white, smooth texture, delicate flavor, smooth foliage, almost like a rutabaga)
Golden Ball (60 days, sweet, fine-grained yellow flesh)
Market Express (earliest, 38 days for baby turnips, pure white roots)
Purple Top White Globe (55 days, the standard purple and white; smooth, globe roots)
Royal Crown (hybrid - 52 days, purple top, fast growth, uniform roots, resistant to bolting)
Scarlet Queen (hybrid - 45 days, bright scarlet root, smooth white flesh, resistant to downy mildew, slow to get pithy)
Tokyo Cross (hybrid - 35 days; AAS winner; all-white, uniform, round roots; slow to get pithy)
White Knight (75 days, smooth, uniform, pure white, flattened globe roots)
White Lady (hybrid-pure white, sweet, tender, delicious roots, slow to get pithy; smooth tops)
Alltop (hybrid - 35 days, vigorous, high-yielding, rapid regrowth, resistant to mosaic)
Seven Top (open-pollinated - 40 days; dark green leaves; for tops only)
Shogoin (42 days; tender, mild; roots good when young)
Topper (hybrid - 35 days; heavy yields, vigorous regrowth; good bolt resistance; resistant to mosaic; pale green roots also edible)
Altasweet (92 days; purple shoulders, light yellow below; mild, sweet flavor)
American Purple Top (90 days, large globe-shaped roots with purple top and light yellow flesh)
Improved Long Island (90 days; large, spherical; purplish red shoulders, light yellow below; small taproot)
Laurentian (90 days; dark purple shoulders, pale yellow below; smooth, uniform roots, small necks)
Pike (100 days; purple shoulders; similar to Laurentian, better leaf cover, may be left in field later in fall); and Red Chief (90 days)
For summer use, turnips should be planted as early in the spring as possible. For fall harvest, plant rutabagas about 100 days before the first frost and plant turnips about 3 to 4 weeks later.
Fall turnips may also be broadcast after early potatoes, cabbage, beets and peas or between rows of sweet corn. Prepare a good seedbed and rake the seed in lightly. No cultivation is necessary, but you may find that a few large weeds must be removed by hand. Provide ample water for seed germination and vigorous plant growth. Both turnips and rutabagas have been used for excellent fall and early winter stock feed when broadcast onto fields left vacant by earlier crop harvest.
Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep (3 to 20 seeds per foot of row). Allow 12 to 24 inches between rows. Water if necessary to germinate the seed and establish the seedlings (especially for summer sowings). Thin rutabaga seedlings to six inches apart when they are two inches tall. Thin turnip seedlings to 2 to 4 inches apart when they are four inches tall. The removed plants are large enough to use as greens. If you have planted turnips for greens, harvest the tops as needed when they are 4 to 6 inches tall. If the growing points are not removed, tops continue to regrow. Successive plantings at 10 day intervals provide later harvests of quality roots or greens. Old turnips tend to be tough and woody. Rutabagas are not usually sown in succession due to their longer time requirement before harvest. In mild areas, large rutabagas may hold in the garden well into the winter.
When the plants are small, cultivate 2 to 3 inches deep between rows. As the plants become larger, cultivate more shallowly to prevent injury to the tender feeder roots. Pull weeds that appear in the row before they become too large.
Turnips and rutabagas store well in refrigerator. Spring turnips should be pulled or cut when the roots or tops reach usable size. Harvest fall roots starting in early autumn or as needed. Turnips and rutabagas are of best quality (mild and tender) when they are of medium size (turnips should be 2 to 3 inches in diameter and rutabagas 3 to 5 inches in diameter) and have grown quickly and without interruption. Both are hardy to fall frosts and may, in fact, be sweetened by cool weather. A heavy straw mulch extends harvest through the early part of the winter. They may be dipped in warm (but not hot) wax to prevent loss of moisture.
Root maggots can be a problem in areas where radishes, turnips or rutabagas were grown the previous year. The soil should be treated with a suggested insecticide before the next planting.
Q. Why are my rutabagas small, tough and bitter tasting?
A. Rutabagas are best grown in northern areas or as a fall crop. When they develop and mature in hot weather, they do not develop typical sweetness and flavor. In southerly locations, try adjusting the planting season so that root development takes place in the cooler days of fall, whenever that may be in your area.
Q. Can you use turnips for greens?
A. Turnip tops are nutritious and often eaten as cooked greens. Certain cultivars - such as 'Shogoin' - are grown exclusively for greens. Other cultivars provide both greens and roots - such as 'Purple Top,' 'White Globe,' 'Just Right' and 'Tokyo Market.'