Growing Turnips for a Comeback

Growing turnips helps this lowly veggie regain its most favored vegetable status.

| July/August 2012

  • Growing Turnips for a Comeback
    The Purple Top White Globe may be old, but it's still "tops" with turnip growers.
    Courtesy W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
  • White Egg Turnip
    An early variety, the White Egg Turnip is extremely fast growing with a mild white flesh. It has a rich history and is great for the backyard grower or in bunches for the market gardener.
    Brian Dunne/Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  • Growing Turnips for a Comeback
  • White Egg Turnip

For millennia, the turnip was one of the most popular vegetables out there, and for good reason. While potatoes have more or less cornered the market in the last hundred years, the delightful turnip’s versatility, hardiness and nutritional value are worthy of consideration.

Turnips are a member of the Brassicaceae family, a fairly large group populated by many well-known edible plants including mustard, cabbage, kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, radish and canola (rapeseed) in addition to flowers such as alyssum, stocks and wallflowers.

There are many “groups” or variations within the Brassica genus, a fact that makes their classification confusing even to botanists. If you are saving seed from any of these species, make sure you know what plants will cross-pollinate and take care to keep them separated.

Turnips, Brassica rapa var. rapa (sometimes known as B. Campestris), include many closely related varieties that are cultivated primarily for the leaves, although their roots are prized in traditional Japanese cuisine. Other Brassica rapa members include B. rapa var. chinensis — pak choi, bok choi, tatsoi and others — and celery cabbage, known in this country as napa cabbage, B. rapa var. pekinensis. In addition to being cultivated as vegetables, specialty turnips are raised for animal fodder and oil seed.

Turnips can form swollen, rounded, somewhat flattened, or long, cylindrical taproots, with compound (indented) hairy leaves. A true biennial, the turnip requires a vernalization, or cooling period, before producing blooms and seeds in its second year. It’s uncommon that humans consume an entire plant, but these are one of the few, with both roots and greens finding homes in dishes all over the world.

Turnip variety origins

Turnips originated in the Mediterranean region and spread to the Middle East and western Asia, with European cultivation predating the Middle Ages. They still grow wild in parts of eastern Europe and western Russia. First described by Theophrastus in 400 B.C. and later by Pliny in 100 B.C., turnip cultivation was well established in Greek and Roman times and likely predates these civilizations. Ancient writers indicate that folks living in the country, particularly the poor, often utilized this vegetable.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me