Turnips, sadly, do not have the best reputation but growing turnips – or to be more precise growing turnip greens – is a must for new vegetable gardeners. So in this post I’ll be sharing firstly, why you should grow turnips and turnip greens – think delicious, soil healing, super foods – and secondly, everything you need to know about growing turnip greens including why you should ignore most tips you might have read elsewhere on how to grow turnips!!!
Because to truly enjoy the benefits of growing turnips we need to forget all those stories we ever heard about the wonders of giant turnips and think delicate radish sized roots and spring fresh green leaves.
How To Grow Turnips & Turnip Greens
If you are already convinced of the delicious health benefits of turnips and turnip greens and just want to know how to grow them whizz down to section 2 for easy tips on how to grow turnip greens covering:
- The best time to plant turnips
- How to plant turnip greens
- Growing turnips in pots & containers
- How often to water turnips
- When are turnips ready to harvest
- How to stop turnips bolting
- Best ways to store turnips
- Turnips as companion plants
- Growing turnips in winter
- Common turnip pests
- Common turnip diseases
- And how to grow turnip greens from scraps
There’s lots of essential information for all the questions you may have but it’s all organised in simple tips so do bookmark or save the post for later.
1. Why Grow Turnips & Turnip Greens?
Turnips are super easy quick growing vegetables that fertilise and heal the soil for other vegetables and fruit like raspberries and are – who knew? – super foods for us. But unfortunately we all associate turnips with dull tennis ball sized roots for hearty autumn soups and stews. We couldn’t be more wrong and in Italy it’s a different story.
Delicious Cime Di Rapa
Delicious turnip greens – cime di rapa – are a big part of Italian cooking and even appear on pizza and in panini. In fact cime di rapa is so popular in Italy every region has their own name from rapini in Tuscany to friarelli in Naples. The Italians also know that the best way to eat the turnip root itself is young, the size of a large marble or at most golf ball; roasted at this size in nothing more than a little oil they are melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious.
And turnips and their greens aren’t just delicious they’re good for us.
The Health Benefits Of Turnips
Unlike many root vegetables, turnips are low in starch and low GI but are also amazing multi-vitamins rich in A, C, E, K and most B vitamins as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, calcium and copper. Turnips and turnip greens also contain omega-3 fatty acids and proteins and are rich in antioxidants
So without doubt turnips are good for us.
And the health benefits of turnips may not end there. Recent research suggests turnips and turnip greens may also be anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and may help with management of diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. Wow!!
But an awful lot of these health benefits are in the young green leaves not in the big old roots so the last thing we want to be doing is following the tips from too many gardening “experts” on growing tasteless turnips the size of tennis balls!!
Except that is over winter when turnips can be used – as they were traditionally – to provide a green manure cover crop to help fertilise and heal our soil.
Turnips As Green Manure
The benefits of growing turnips in your vegetable garden aren’t just limited to winter however. Recent research suggests that their antibiotic and anti-fungal properties can help keep the soil healthy in growing season for a wide range of fruit and vegetables including raspberries and spinach.
So if you’re just starting a vegetable garden do include turnips but grow them primarily for their hard-to-buy turnips greens – or cime di rapa – harvesting their delicious roots young, Italian style rather than growing great tasteless-tennis-ball-turnips you can buy cheaply and easily.
These next tips on growing turnip greens and cime di rapa will give you all the information you need to do just that.
2. How To Grow Turnip Greens & Cime Di Ripa
The Best Time To Plant Turnips
- Turnips aren’t keen on heat so the best time to plant turnips is a fortnight to a month before last frost (UK dates, USA dates) for a spring to early summer harvest.
- However they are happy up to around 24c so in many parts of the UK you can keep them going in a cooler part of the garden most summers which is good news as young leaves and roots are great in salads.
- If you want to get them in early look out for frost resistant varieties like the classic Milan purple top & be ready to pop quick DIY cloches on them if the frost comes back.
- Turnips are a quick growing vegetable so if you’re harvesting them young as turnip greens and cime di rapa you can have a crop in a month.
Growing Turnips In Winter
- You can plant turnips from late August for autumn & early winter crops.
- Turnip seeds will germinate when it’s as cold as 5c / 40f so if like me you’re growing in a fairly mild climate – I’m in London – you can keep planting into a mild October especially on sunny beds or in pots that have had summer crops such as tomatoes.
- Give turnips planted in autumn a bit more space so they are less vulnerable to mildew and fungus.
- You can also grow turnips in winter as a cover crop to protect and feed soil over winter and then be dug through in spring. If you’re growing turnips in winter as a cover crop you do need get them in early enough i.e. in September for them to be well established before it gets too cold.
- If growing turnips over winter as a cover crop dig them in before they flower and go to seed.
How To Plant Turnip Greens
- These tips on how to plant turnip greens are a bit different from most tips you read on how to plant turnips as we – remember – are NOT growing tasteless tennis balls but luscious cime di rapa and tiny melt in your mouth roots!!
- Plant turnip seeds about 1 cm deep directly in the bed or pot you’re going to grow them in as they’re not keen on being transplanted.
- When growing turnip greens, you can plant seeds as closely as 8 cm / 3 inches apart which is useful if you’re growing in pots. If you do have more space don’t plant more than 15 cm / 6 inches apart as we want more small plants rather than a few big ones.
- Plant seeds little and often, e.g. 10 seeds a week, so you have a constant crop of tender leaves and young roots ready.
- Water immediately but lightly on planting as turnips need moist soil to germinate.
- Turnip seeds typically germinate in just a few days
Growing Turnips In Pots & Containers
- Turnip greens – or cime di rapa – do well in pots and containers so you can easily include them in a tiny patio or balcony garden.
- If you want to grow turnip greens as alternative to vegetables like kale or cavolo nero plant turnip seeds 1cm deep about 3 inches apart.
- Alternatively for very young salad like leaves sprinkle 15 or so seeds evenly across a 30cm pot or container and cover with a cm or so of soil.
- Do keep an eye on the moistness of soil in your turnip pots and don’t let them dry out but as the same time don’t over water.
- By growing turnips in pots and containers or grow bags – I’ve grown them in an old potato bag – you can keep your turnip harvest going much longer moving pots from a sunny spot in very early spring to cooler spots as it warms up in the summer.
How Often To Water Turnips
- As mentioned turnips are a quick growing vegetable and the quicker they grow the more tender their leaves will be so we need to keep them moist but they don’t want to be sitting in soggy soil.
- If turnips dry out the plants will very quickly bolt and go to flower.
- Water soil around roots lightly and avoid getting leaves wet to help prevent white rust on turnip greens.
When Are Turnips Ready To Harvest
- Turnip greens can be harvested Italian cime di rapa style from as little as 15cm or 6 inches high. The leaves will be tender, not quite so tangy and suitable for salads or cooking gently with garlic for cime di rapa pasta.
- If you harvest the turnip greens by cutting the stalks about an inch above the root you will have a fresh crop of turnip greens in less than 3 weeks.
- To harvest the tiny turnips themselves lift every other plant so you can enjoy the roots roasted whilst still keeping a continuous cut-and-come- again turnip greens crop growing.
- Eat tiny turnip roots with 15cm or so leaves raw in salads as radishes and roast slightly bigger roots in oil. You don’t need to peel them.
- Harvest all turnip greens before they are 30 cm / 12 inches or so high as the leaves will get tangier as they get bitter.
- If the weather turns very warm in spring or early summer, it’s usually better to harvest your turnip greens on the young side as their pleasant tang can border on bitter if they get too much sun.
- But if the turnip green leaves do get a bit big cooking them gently in lots of butter and garlic will still make them delicious
How To Stop Turnips Bolting
- Turnips do have a reputation as bolters.
- Which is cool as a plant life cycle activity for kids as it lets them see a very quick seed to seed cycle but bolting turnips aren’t so great when we’re after lush young turnip greens!!
- The best way to stop turnips bolting are to:
- plant turnip seeds as early as frosts allow
- plant turnips in pots and containers so they can be moved from over sunny spots in unusually hot springs
- don’t let turnips dry out
- mulch soil around turnips to keep cool and damp
- harvest turnip greens early.
Best Ways To Store Turnips
- To be very honest the best ways to store turnips are not to!!
- If you’re growing turnip greens for cime di rapa and delicious small roots the best thing to do is harvest them as needed and eat fresh.
- But if the weather is getting hot and you don’t want them bolting or your turnip tops are in danger of getting too big, then turnip greens will keep happily for 7 days in fridge or you can easily freeze turnip greens in the same way as you freeze kale for example for easy cooking later.
- Small turnip green roots will keep in the fridge for a good while but the sooner we eat them the more delicious they are to be honest.
Turnips As Companion Plants
- Turnips are great companion plants for all sorts of fruit and vegetables from raspberries to peas because as mentioned they feed and heal the soil and appear to have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that can help plants prone to fungal diseases.
- Turnips are good companion plants for cabbage and spinach – another great quick growing vegetable for beginners starting a vegetable garden on a budget – as they can help to repel aphids.
- Some gardeners also suggest that turnips are happier as companion plants with green leafy plants rather than other root vegetables as they compete less for soil nutrients.
- But true to the great all rounder that is the turnip they do not seem to have any bad companion plants you really shouldn’t grow them with.
Common Turnip Pests
Turnips do like all vegetables suffer from some pests – so it’s worth knowing and recognising these before planting – but in general turnips suffer less from garden plants than most vegetables. Ones to watch out for are:
- Leaf Hoppers : yellowing or wilting leaves can be a sign of leaf hoppers. Keep an eye on the underside of leaves and remove eggs and larvae to control leafhoppers organically.
- Turnip Moth & Cutworms : the turnip moth lays its caterpillar – known as cutworms – underground and they eat the root and “cut off” new seedlings and plants just above the root. Pick them off manually in evening into a bucket of soapy water or try deterring with diomastaceous earth, egg shells or coffee grounds. There are more tips here on how to control cutworms organically.
- Turnip Root Fly & Cabbage Root Fly : the eggs of these flies are laid in the soil around the turnips and the larvae then tunnel through the turnip roots. Keep the flies away by covering beds in fine mesh and protecting soil around base of young plants with cardboard. There are more tips here on how to control cabbage root fly.
- Flea Beetle : make tiny holes in young plants. You can again protect turnips from flea beetles by covering beds in fine mesh and there are more tips here on flea beetle control for organic gardeners.
- Cabbage Loopers : cabbage loopers are the green caterpillars of the brown trichoplusia ni moth. Watch out for and manually remove eggs on the underside of leaves and keep moths off with fine mesh covers.
Common Turnip Diseases
Turnips do suffer from a few diseases but again they are a pretty resilient plant and may actually protect other vegetables and fruit from viral and fungal diseases. Diseases turnips are prone to watch out for are:
- White Rust Fungus : is a white mold that appears in specks on turnip leaves. It doesn’t appear to harm the root but as we’re growing turnip for turnip greens we want to prevent it. The key tips is to water roots lightly and avoid watering leaves so they don’t get too damp but there’s a full guide here on how to identify and prevent white rust on turnip.
- Powdery Mildew : turnips like many plants can suffer from white powdery mildew which can be exacerbated by damp leaves and lack of air especially later in the year but if you are growing turnip greens quickly as cime di rapa it is unlikely to be a problem.
- Club Root : wilting leaves that fail to thrive and knobbly, distorted turnip roots are a symptom club root a fungal disease impacting many brassicas. There are tips here on how to prevent club root organically but again it is less likely to be a problem in turnips grown quickly for turnip greens.
- Turnip Mosaic Virus : turnips can suffer from mosaic virus in which their leaves become very mottled. The virus is actually typically spread to turnips by aphids so a mesh cover can provide protection but it is again unlikely to be a problem with turnips grown from seed for turnip greens in less than 6 weeks.
How To Grow Turnip Greens From Scraps
- One of the coolest things about turnips is how well they grow from scraps.
- A small slither off the top of a turnip root will grow luscious leaves when rooted in water and can actually go through the whole life cycle, flower and produce seeds.
- It is a fun plant life cycle activity for kids that really open their eyes about plant structure and propagation.
But to be honest if you are growing your turnips properly and harvesting them as delicious roots no bigger than a golf ball with fresh tender cime di rapa leaves there is no way on earth you will have scraps to spare …
And there you go. Everything you need to know about growing turnip greens and cime di rapa with not a giant turnip in sight!!
I truly hope you found these turnip green growing tips helpful. Do bookmark them or save them for later and spread the word about how delicious turnip greens can be.
For more simple gardening tips for beginners do check out these posts: