Fall into Turnips

Marlene Spinosa
Adams County Master Gardener

(12/5) Turnips for dinner, anyone?? Consider this nutritional root vegetable as part of your holiday feast menus.

While researching turnips for this article, I was surprised to discover that for centuries the lowly turnip was an important vegetable. It was tasty, hardy, a good keeper, could be cooked in many ways and its root provided antioxidants, minerals, vitamin C and dietary fiber. The greens are rich in vitamin A and C and a source of vitamin K.

Turnips are part of the Brassica family with relatives like cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, rutabagas and radish. Some turnips are cultivated for their greens and some to provide feed for animals.

The turnip originated in the Mediterranean and made its way to western Asia and the Middle East. You can still find wild turnips growing in Eastern Europe and Western Russia and though they are good keepers, thatís a long way to go for a turnip. Probably best to grow your own or buy some at your local market.

Since they wrote about them, we know that Romans and Greeks grew turnips as early as 400 BC, and we can assume they were a well-known crop and a source of food for the poor. The first cultivation of turnips was in 1622 Colonial America and turnips became a staple through the 18th century. South Boston Massachusetts was new land in 1750 and it became the place where the best turnips - Eastham turnips - were grown. The Eastham turnip is still grown today in an area near Cape Cod.

Turnips come in different shapes and sizes; some are round, flat and even cylindrical, and can be small, medium and large. They can have white or yellow flesh and often purple tops. Turnips are easy to grow when planted in moist, loose, fertile soil. The small turnip can grow in less than 5 weeks and you can have fully grown ones in two months. You can plant them in early spring or late summer, but a word of caution - they donít do well in hot weather. If you live in Pennsylvania, . you can leave them in the ground until it freezes. Store them in a root cellar or a refrigerator for months.

Turnips can get a wide range of diseases and also some insect damage but generally need little care. A popular well known All American Selection Winner, the Purple Top White Globe, is rounded with a purple top and white bottom. It can grow as large as 6" in diameter and are harvested in 58 days. Tokyo Cross is an early variety that can be ready in 35 days. There are many other varieties you can find in seed catalogs.

Turnip seeds are small and need to be covered with ľ to Ĺ" well-worked soil, in rows 1 to 2 feet apart. Keep seeds and plants well-watered and weed free.

Good turnips roasted in the oven are a delicious, sophisticated nutritional treat, and a far cry from the turnip that fell off the truck!

This will be my first year planting turnips, and I hope you plant some too. Join me in enjoying these hearty vegetables during the months ahead.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other articles by Marlene Spinosa