Turnips carry their share of clodhopper baggage, but like other humble veg the turnip is experiencing a renaissance.
And not before time. They are dead simple to grow, highly productive and, given careful varietal selection, utterly delicious.
Photo - Jacques PALUT / shutterstock
The key is to choose varieties that form a small root. Large turnip roots were commonly grown in the UK to feed livestock through winter, and this is probably the source of the turnip’s unglamorous reputation. Small-rooted and modern hybrid types need little more than a knob of butter to become an unassuming cool season highlight.
I grow turnips the same way I grow radishes - in rich, slightly alkaline soil with plenty of moisture to prevent roots from becoming dry and woody. A crisp turnip is as important as a crisp radish. I sow the little cannonball seeds direct into the garden, scattering them into shallow furrows before lightly backfilling and watering. Germination takes about a week and the roots swell quickly until harvest in about 6-8 weeks time. The plants are unfazed by cold, wet weather and frost burn is a non-event.
Simply pull mature roots as required and wash off any residual dirt. Both the tops and roots are edible, and turnip tops may actually be more nutritious. They have a flavour similar to mustard. I find them too coarse and hairy for a salad. With the right treatment, however, they may be delicious so it’s worth experimenting.
Cabbage white butterfly larvae will eat turnip leaves though they are more likely to be a problem in autumn and spring. Stick to winter growing and if necessary, cover the plants with netting.
‘Gold Ball’ – cream-coloured roots about the size of a ping pong ball. Lovely, delicate flavour.
‘Hakurei’ - the best turnip I’ve eaten. White, golf ball-sized roots with a deliciously sweet, earthy flavour.
‘Hidabeni’ - a modern Japanese hybrid that is highly regarded in market gardening circles. Flat, red roots with excellent flavour.