Sanctuary Spotlight: How to Grow Turnips

Based on an article I read online, turnips seem to be a crop that not many gardeners grow. It’s a shame because turnips are a great crop for the home garden. They’re easy to grow, and they provide two foods in one – the root (the turnip itself) and the greens. It’s a fall crop that keeps well, and there are several varieties to choose from. I grow the purple top turnip that is common in grocery stores as well as the golden globe turnip (which is milder and has a buttery taste). I can’t imagine my fall garden without turnips. Planting time is around the corner. Consider growing this nutritious crop this year.


The scientific name for turnips is Brassica rapa (subsp. rapa) and is, obviously, part of the brassica family (along with kale, cabbage, broccoli, and radishes). The common name “turnip” is an old compound of the northern English/Scottish name “neep.” Although there are several varieties of turnip (including rutabagas, which are basically a larger turnip), the most common variety is white with a colored top of purple, red, or light green. Interestingly, the colored top is caused when sunlight hits the protruded portion of the turnip. (I never knew that; I’m going to pay attention to that this year!)

The turnip is an ancient root vegetable. There is some evidence that it was domesticated in the 15th century BCE in India, where it was raised for its oil-bearing seeds. It became a well-established crop in the Greek and Roman Empires. Before potatoes arrived in Europe, the turnip was the vegetable of the poor. Later, European colonists brought it to America.

Not everyone enjoys the taste of turnips or their greens because it is somewhat bitter. This bitter taste comes from its calcium content, which is four times greater than cabbage and two times greater than mustard greens. The cooking process and added seasonings tone down the bitter taste and make turnips and turnip greens great nutritional additions to the dinner table.

Based on daily recommended values, one cup of raw turnip (the root) contains, among other vitamins, 46% vitamin C, 6% vitamin B6, and 5% folate. It also contains, among other minerals, 9% manganese, 7% potassium, and 6% copper.

Turnip greens have even higher values of nutrients than the turnips themselves. One cup of raw turnip greens contains, among other vitamins, 173% vitamin K, 127% vitamin A, 55% vitamin C, 27% folate, and 8% vitamin E. The greens also contain, among other minerals, 13% manganese, 10% each of calcium and copper, and 5% potassium. The greens are also high in lutein, a wonderful vitamin for eyesight health.

Golden globe turnips

Golden globe turnips


Turnips are a biennial (grown as an annual) that require well-drained, rich, sandy loam with a pH of 6.5 in full sun. Turnips can be planted in late summer/early fall and again in late winter in milder climates. Because of the cooler weather, turnips maturing in the fall are often sweeter than those maturing in the spring.

Sow turnip seed 1/4-1/2 inch deep, about one inch apart (or 20 seeds per square foot). Thin to four inches apart. Soil must be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit for germination, which takes 7-14 days. When plants are five inches tall, apply two inches of mulch.

Turnips are moderate feeders and do well when fed with compost tea. They also need consistent watering, but dislike being waterlogged.

Purple Top turnip almost ready to harvest

Purple Top turnip almost ready to harvest


Turnips mature in 60-85 days, depending on the variety and how big you want them to be. They are generally ready to harvest when the top of the root pokes above the soil and is about 2-3 inches wide. (The root is more tender when smaller.) Grab the bottom of the greens, close to the turnip, and pull out of the soil. Twist off the greens, leaving about 1/2 inch of stem, then store in a cool, damp place – unwashed – for up to three months. I have successfully kept them in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator in an airtight baggie. If you live in a climate with mild winters, you can keep your turnips in the ground if you add a thick layer of mulch.

If you wish to harvest the turnip greens as the turnip is growing, pick only 2-3 leaves per plant. You can also keep the leaves when the turnip is harvested.


I love cooking sliced turnips, until just tender, with butter and black pepper in water enough to cover. I’ve also had turnips mashed like potatoes at Thanksgiving. And there are several ways I like to cook the turnip greens. Here are some interesting recipes for turnips and their greens:

Roasted Turnips

Turnip Frittata

Chicken & Turnip Soup (this recipe also uses the greens)

Don’t these recipes look yummy? Have I convinced you to grow turnips this year?


One comment on “Sanctuary Spotlight: How to Grow Turnips

  1. Pingback: How to Grow Turnip in Your Garden

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