The “Humble Turnip” was often the butt of jokes as being the food of the poor. They were once widely grown as a vegetable but seem to have fallen from favour but now find a new popularity amongst those who have an interest in ‘heritage” plants and more creative cookery.
The large varieties are grown for feeding livestock and smaller, tender varieties for home consumption. Interestingly, the turnip was the basis for a four year crop rotation developed during the Agrarian Revolution of the 18th Century, enabling livestock to be fed the year round and allowing the eating of fresh meat during the winter months. Both the green tops and the swollen root can be eaten, though the greens can be a little bitter for most tastes. The bitter taste is attributed to high calcium content and many health benefits have been attributed to this humble vegetable.
Closely related to, turnips are similar to swedes
Turnips are thought to have been cultivated for thousands of years and were highly regarded by the Greeks and Romans. They are easy to grow, tolerant of cool and cold climates and are highly productive. Turnips were a vegetable staple in the Middle Ages and later period, before the potato became widely known.
How to grow turnips
Closely related to both cabbages and swedes, Turnips share a low germination temperature and tolerance of poor soils. They are a biennial plant, growing the large root as a food store to be used as an energy supply the following year. Seeds planted early in spring may flower and seed in the following autumn, so plant from mid June to July giving enough time for the root to develop by the autumn, when they can be harvested through the winter. As with many winter vegetables, flavour improves with exposure to frost. Sow seeds in drills 2.5 cm deep in rows 20-30 cm apart. As with most plants, well cultivated, free draining soil to which has been added plenty of well rotted compost. Sow seed thinly to avoid crowding, in their final growing place rather than attempting to transplant.
As a member of the cabbage family, they are susceptible to clubroot, so an addition of lime would be helpful.
TURNIPS AT A GLANCE
Plant seed 2.5 cm deep in rows 20-30cm apart in June and July, in free draining, well cultivated soil.
Diseases As for cabbage