(Species: Brassica rapa - Family: Brassicaceae)
Turnip and its origins
Turnips have been consumed since prehistoric times. In ancient Greece and Rome, the turnip was usually part of the diet of poor country people and tended to be looked down upon by the higher classes.
Their use in Europe goes back over 4,000 years. In the medieval period and on into the 18th century, this vegetable became common animal fodder in winter. The turnip was introduced into the USA and Canada by European immigrants.
Turnips are a hardy root vegetable crop. They are small, round and generally coloured purple or white or a mix of the two; they can also be a yellowy or cream colour.
Although their natural shape is round, the development of new varieties over the years means that they can now be longer, flatter and also smaller. There is a golf ball size that is popular for use in cooking modern cuisine. Early varieties of turnip can be either round or flat, while main crop varieties are usually round.
This plant takes about 10 weeks to grow from seed, and can be harvested from the beginning of summer right the way through to the end of the year. Despite this, they are still thought of as a winter vegetable. If turnips are harvested when young, their tasty green leaves can be cooked or used for salads.
How to plant Turnip
Turnips favour an open site with no shade, in soil that has plenty of nutrients. Compost or a general fertiliser XXX can help prepare the ground for a good crop.
Sow from seed and directly into the ground. Successional sowings can ensure that there is a steady supply over a long period, rather than having an abundance of them for a short time. Seeds should be sown about 1cm deep, in rows about 23cm apart for earless varieties, and about 30cm apart for main crop. Spacing for 'mini' turnips can be much closer. The soil must be kept moist to ensure germination.
When the seedlings develop, they can be gradually thinned out until they are about 13cm apart in the case of earless varieties, or about 23cm for main crop. Hoe regularly between young plants to stop weeds competing for the soil’s nutrients.
If the turnip is left in the ground too long the flavour will suffer so they should not be left to get too old and large. They are also not hardy enough to thrive in the ground when the weather becomes very cold. Turnips are at their tastiest when they are about 13cm in circumference, and should not be left to get larger than 20cm, or they will become woody. Early varieties are not suitable for storing, but later crops can be stored in a cool place where there is no danger of frost.
Young plants are susceptible to slugs and snails, so you may need to take preventative steps XXXXX. Flea beetles can cause severe damage to the leaves or tops, making them inedible. Derris powder XXX will eliminate them or covering the turnip plants with fleece will help protect them.
Did you know?
There is a Scottish tradition of carving grotesque 'gumshoe heads' from turnips and placing them at windows and doors to ward off evil spirits at Halloween.
The UK art award, the Turner Prize, now has a satirical antidote called the Turnip Prize, which aims reward artistic lack of effort: the trophy is a large turnip mounted on a rusty nail.
They are also used widely in cooking thanks to their distinctive and slight ‘hot’ taste, all across the globe; they can be mashed, roasted, boiled or baked. The turnip is a common ingredient in soups and stews.