Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Turnips & Rutabagas

by Lynn Ocone


Turnips are an easy to grow, adaptable, and productive home garden crops

Turnips and their kin, the rutabagas, are no-frills vegetables. Traditionally, they've offered plenty of utility, if not much flair. However, promising new varieties are available, and adventurous chefs are giving these old standbys a fresh look.

Here we offer varieties and growing techniques to ensure delicately flavored roots (unlike the tough, cabbage- flavored ones you may remember from childhood). And, if you live in cold-winter regions, don't overlook rutabagas, which are among the hardiest of all vegetables. You can harvest them (when nothing else is growing) well into the fall and winter if you follow the techniques here.

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Family Relations
Turnip varieties for Southern-style greens include 'White Globe' and 'Purple Top'

Scientists believe that the turnip (Brassica rapa), a white- or yellow-fleshed and often purple-shouldered root, is of European or western Asian origin. Humans have been growing and consuming turnips for thousands of years. The rutabaga (B. napus), sometimes called a Swede turnip (or just plain "Swede"), was developed in Europe in the Middle Ages and is believed to be a cross between the turnip and some form of cabbage. Usually solid yellow or sometimes white fleshed, it found its way into American gardens in the early 1800s.

Turnips and rutabagas have similar growth requirements. Both flourish in cool weather when planted in fertile, loose soil. Turnips grow fast, reaching full 1 1/2-inch size 35 to 50 days after planting. Rutabagas, which are larger, starchier, and sweeter than turnips, take about a month longer. Both tolerate frosts, but rutabagas are much hardier. They also store well, up to 6 months compared to 4 months for turnips.

Turnips grow best in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8, and rutabagas prefer a slightly sweeter soil pH in the 6.0 to 7.2 range. Dig and loosen the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches; loose soil is vital to producing fat, tender roots. Too much nitrogen, however, will force top growth and diminish root quality. Plant in rows or narrow bands, spacing seeds about 1 inch apart; cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. After planting, water gently with a fine spray to moisten the soil.

Turnips and rutabagas are fairly trouble-free, with root maggots and flea beetles the most probable pests. Both can be excluded by covering the seeded area with a floating row cover immediately after planting; leave the cover on while plants grow. Rotenone also controls flea beetles.

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