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Brassica rapa

Have you tried growing Turnips? Just bringing them up in conversation usually results in someone adopting a bad English peasant accent, and making jokes. For those old enough to remember, they once featured as a comedy prop in Blackadder where Baldrick had a much prized turnip “grown in the shape of a thingy”...  (Use your imagination!)

This much maligned vegetable is delicious picked young and steamed, or else cooked and mashed with potato. They can be used in soups, stews and even pickled. Like many vegetables, the oversized tough examples in the shops are grown for maximum weight and bear little resemblance to home grown and harvested ones. The trick is to pick them small.

Turnips are a good crop to follow on from heavy feeding summer crops like pumpkins or corn, and are easily grown from seed. Sow in rows directly in the garden spaced about 30cms apart, 1 – 2cms deep. You will need to thin seedlings as they grow – allow at least 10cms between each plant. 

Turnips can be harvested approx. 60 days from planting – when they reach about golfball size. Keep plants well watered and protected in really hot spells so they don’t bolt to seed. Turnips are a brassica so watch out for cabbage moth and slugs and snails, which love to chomp on members of this family. Their leaves can also be susceptible to aphids, particularly if grown in a more shady spot.

The variety pictured is a 'Red Round' Asian heritage variety turnip growing in our garden. The colour on skin really is much more red than the usual purple colour. Flesh is white. Nice cooked, but not too good raw!! Paul picked a young one mistaking it for a radish - it wasn't too special eaten that way! (Another reason to tag your seed plantings!)

They can be grown pretty much year round in all but the hottest months. Given some light shade, they will tolerate warm conditions providing they are given the water. Stressed plants tend to produce bitter roots (it is the swollen root that you typically eat). Turnips need moderately fertile soil, but aren’t especially fussy. They don’t take up much space and can be squeezed in around other plantings. Relatively quick growing they can be harvested in as little as 6 – 9 weeks from planting.

Turnip tops are edible but tend to be a bit coarse, depending on variety. Young leaves can be quite nice steamed. Or feed tops to your chooks as they are quite nutritious. Raw turnips (sliced thinly in salads or used as sticks as you would carrot for dips) are also healthy and tasty – a bit like a radish. Although as stated the variety above doesn't come recommended for this - but try others. Turnips can be blanched and frozen if you have a surplus.  They are very tasty in mashed potato - cook & mash together with the spuds; one or two turnips to a batch of spuds is all you need to add an interesting flavour twist.

Totally untried and untested is a turnip recipe for prevention of the common cold (found online). The instructions say to remove the top off the turnip (like a lid) and scoop out part of the insides to allow you to put in about two teaspoons of sugar. Replace the lid and leave overnight. Supposedly the next morning will see the sugar partially dissolved with turnip juice that has seeped out overnight. Drinking the sugary syrup will apparently ward off colds and flu for some time – the instructions say this should not be repeated more than once every two years! (Maybe it takes you that long to forget the taste of it!!! Let me know if it works for you!!)

Good companion plants for turnips include peas, lettuce, cucumber, nasturtium.

However you decide to use your turnips, and whatever shapes they may end up – enjoy!

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