Turnips are grown for both the starchy root and for the vitamin rich greens. They are hardy and are one of the first vegetables that can be planted in the cool season spring garden. They also store well and are one of the last vegetables left in the root cellar before the new crops come out.
Turnips depend on loose dirt for a good root. It is important to plow up the ground well where you are planting them so they do not have to fight packed dirt to grow. While you are plowing the ground, work 2-3 pounds of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 feet of row into the soil. When the plants are about 4 inches tall, work another 1/2 cup of nitrogen into each ten feet of row. This should be placed beside the plants, not on them.
If you are growing turnips primarily for greens, you will want to plant varieties such as All Top, Seven Top, and Topper. If you want good roots, too, you will want to plant varieties such as Purple Top White Globe, Tokyo Cross, and Royal Globe. Whichever variety you plant, it is a good idea to plant one third of your row, then wait ten days, plant the next ten days, then wait ten more days and plant the last third of the row. That way, your greens, which don’t keep as well as the roots, don’t all get ripe at once.
Turnips are sown directly into the ground with other spring vegetables. They will sprout if the soil temperature is 40 degrees F or above. The seeds are tiny, making planting them evenly over the row a challenge. You can now often purchase the seeds in a seed tape for easier planting.
Turnips must be planted in moist soil. Make a small depression in the center of the row, plant the seeds, then just barely cover them with soil. Next, sprinkle them with water. The soil must be kept moist until the seeds sprout and you see the leaves, usually 3-7 days. The tender leaves cannot push through soil that is dry or crusted.
Turnips should be thinned to 3-4 inches apart when they have two true leaves. Soak the row once per week with at least an inch of water to help develop good root systems. Except for right after watering, the soil should be moist but not squishy.
Turnip greens are harvested when they are 4-6 inches long. Any longer, and they become tough and bitter. Pull the entire plant, root and all. Roots are ideal when they are two inches in diameter or just a little larger. Any larger and they become fibrous and stringy. Those seen in the grocery store are often way too large and do not taste as good.
Greens are cooked like spinach or collard greens. They can be quite nutritious if steamed in just the water remaining on the leaves after they are washed good, then eaten immediately. The roots are eaten like potatoes, boiled and mashed or baked.
Turnip roots can be stored in cool root cellars or a cool, dark corner for most of the winter. The greens should be eaten within a day or two of harvest.
Grow an Old-Time Root Vegetable-The Turnip
Turnips have graced our family table ever since prehistoric times. Once they came to America, they were valued as a root crop in the south. Southern plantation owners had a taste for the delicious root while they would allow the help to gather the nutritious leaves. Today both turnip greens and the turnip root can be found in any local grocery store or Farmers’ Market.
To start your turnips begins with the preparation of the soil. Turnips like a soil that is rich in organic matter with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. To prepare soil, start early and add compost and well-aged manure.
Once the garden soil is prepared, plan when you can begin planting in your area. Turnips are a cool season crop and grow best when temperatures are 40F to 75F degrees. If you plant to have a spring crop, you will need to count back two to three weeks from the last frost date. The date that is calculated is when you can plant your first crop of turnips.
Turnips can be grown several times during the gardening season since they mature in 30 to 60 days. An early crop can be planted in early spring and harvested in late spring. Another crop can be planted in early summer and harvested in late summer and then can be reseeded in early autumn for a late autumn harvest.
Turnips do not do well transplanted so it is always better to seed directly into the garden soil. To do this, simply plant the seeds in trenches that are ½ inch deep and 12 to 24 inches apart. Thin the seedlings so that they are four to six inches apart twice during the growing season but do not let these plants go to waste. Thinned seedlings provide a great source for early greens.
Once the seedlings begin to appear, apply a mulch of straw or wood chips. Turnips can benefit from a side dressing of compost mid-season. Both of these strategies keep the soil moist and fertilize the plants. This in turn prevents the turnips from becoming woody, which occurs when the plant dries out and/or grows to slowly.
If you do not have a garden plot, do not worry turnips can be grown in containers. The trick to container growing is to make sure the pot is at least eight inches deep and wide. Follow the same planting guidelines and do not let the turnips dry out. Make sure to place the container in a sunny or partial shade location.
If you choose to plant your turnips in a planter add a designer touch to the plantings by utilizing companion plantings. Bush beans, and Southern peas are good choices to use for diversity in a container garden.
Turnips suffer from few pests. Two common pests are aphids and flea beetles. Aphids can simply be sprayed off or pinch off infected vegetation. Keeping the weeds down around turnips can control flea beetles.
White rust fungus also attacks turnips and causes small white blisters on the top of the leaf and yellowing on the underside of the leaf. Treatment is not required for this disease problem.
Turnips can be harvested in 30 to 60 days after seeding. To harvest the root, simply pull it out of the ground or careful lift up with a garden fork. The turnips you choose to harvest should be two to three inches in diameter.
Once harvested, cut off the leaves and store them in the refrigerator for up to one week. Place roots in the refrigerator for up to two months worth of storage or place in a cool, damp environment for up to five months.
The noticeably bitter taste of turnip greens has been linked by researchers to its calcium content. On an ounce-for-ounce basis, turnip greens contain about 4 times more calcium than a much less bitter-tasting cruciferous vegetables like cabbage. Even in comparison to mustard greens, turnip greens contain about twice the calcium content. High calcium content is not the only reason for the noticeable bitterness of turnip greens, of course. But it may be an important contributing factor. While the commercial food industry has sometimes tried to breed out the bitter-tasting constituents from turnip greens, this practice doesn't make sense if you want to maximize your nourishment from this cruciferous vegetable. A much healthier approach would be the use a recipe and cooking method that brings out the delicious potential of turnip greens in a flavor-blended way.
For total glucosinolate content, turnip greens outscore cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli among the most commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. That fantastic glucosinolate content brings with it some equally fantastic health benefits. The glucosinolates in turnip greens are phytonutrients that can be converted into isothiocyanates (ITCs) with cancer-preventing properties. All cruciferous vegetables have long been known to contain glucosinolates, but it has taken recent research to show us exactly how valuable turnip greens are in this regard.
You'll want to include turnip greens as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, include cruciferous vegetables as part of your diet 2-3 times per week, and make the serving size at least 1-1/2 cups. Even better from a health standpoint, enjoy turnip greens and other vegetables from the cruciferous vegetable group 4-5 times per week, and increase your serving size to 2 cups.
We recommend Healthy Steaming turnip greens for maximum nutrition and flavor. Cut greens into 1/2-inch slices and let sit for at least 5 minutes to enhance it health-promoting benefits and steam for 5 minutes. Toss with our Mediterranean Dressing (see Healthiest Way to Cook Turnip Greens in the How to Enjoy section below).
Unlike some of their fellow cruciferous vegetables, turnip greens have not been the direct focus of most health-oriented research studies. However, turnip greens have sometimes been included in a longer list of cruciferous vegetables that have been lumped together and studied to determine potential types of health benefits. Based upon several dozen studies involving cruciferous vegetables as a group (and including turnip greens on the list of vegetables studied), cancer prevention appears to be a standout area for turnip greens when summarizing health benefits.
This connection between turnip greens and cancer prevention should not be surprising since turnip greens provide special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development as well as cancer prevention. These three systems are (1) the body's detox system, (2) its antioxidant system, and (3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system. Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase risk of cancer, and when imbalances in all three systems occur simultaneously, the risk of cancer increases significantly. Among all types of cancer, prevention of the following cancer types is most closely associated with intake of turnip greens: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.
The detox support provided by turnip greens includes antioxidant nutrients to boost Phase 1 detoxification activities and sulfur-containing nutrients to boost Phase 2 activities. Turnip greens also contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates that can help activate detoxification enzymes and regulate their activity. Two key glucosinolates that have been clearly identified in turnip greens in significant amounts are gluconasturtiian and glucotropaeolin.
If we fail to give our body's detox system adequate nutritional support, yet continue to expose ourselves to unwanted toxins through our lifestyle and our dietary choices, we can place our bodies at increased risk of toxin-related damage that can eventually increase our cells' risk of becoming cancerous. That's one of the reasons it's so important to bring turnip greens and other cruciferous vegetables into our diet on a regular basis.
As an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and manganese, turnip greens provide highest level support for four conventional antioxidant nutrients. But the antioxidant support provided by turnip greens extends far beyond these conventional nutrients and into the realm of phytonutrients. Hydroxycinnamic acid, quercetin, myricetin, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol are among the key antioxidant phytonutrients provided by turnip greens. This broad spectrum antioxidant support helps lower the risk of oxidative stress in our cells. Chronic oxidative stress—meaning chronic presence over overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and cumulative damage to our cells by these molecules—is a risk factor for development of most cancer types. By providing us with a diverse array of antioxidant nutrients, turnip greens help lower our cancer risk by helping us avoid chronic and unwanted oxidative stress.
As an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), turnip greens provide us with two hallmark anti-inflammatory nutrients. Vitamin K acts as a direct regulator of our inflammatory response, and ALA is the building block for several of the body's most widely-used families of anti-inflammatory messaging molecules. While glucobrassicin (a glucosinolate found in many cruciferous vegetables, and the precursor for the anti-inflammatory molecule indole-3-carbinol) does not appear to be present in turnip greens in significant amounts, other glucosinolates present in turnip greens may provide important anti-inflammatory benefits and are the subject of current research.
Like chronic oxidative stress and chronic weakened detox ability, chronic unwanted inflammation can significantly increase our risk of cancers and other chronic diseases (especially cardiovascular diseases).
Researchers have looked at a variety of cardiovascular problems—including heart attack, ischemic heart disease, and atherosclerosis—and found preliminary evidence of an ability on the part of cruciferous vegetables to lower our risk of these health problems. Yet regardless of the specific cardiovascular problem, it is one particular type of cardiovascular benefit that has most interested researchers, and that benefit is the anti-inflammatory nature of turnip greens and their fellow cruciferous vegetables. Scientists have not always viewed cardiovascular problems as having a central inflammatory component, but the role of unwanted inflammation in creating problems for our blood vessels and circulation has become increasingly fundamental to an understanding of cardiovascular diseases. While glucoraphanin (a glucosinolate found in many cruciferous vegetables, and the precursor for sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate with important anti-inflammatory properties) does not appear to be present in turnip greens in significant amounts, other glucosinolates present in turnip greens may provide important anti-inflammatory benefits and are the subject of current research.
A second area you can count on turnip greens for cardiovascular support involves their cholesterol-lowering ability. Our liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to product bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat through a process called emulsification. These molecules are typically stored in fluid form in our gall bladder, and when we eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into the intestine where they help ready the fat for interaction with enzymes and eventual absorption up into the body. When we eat turnip greens, fiber-related nutrients in this cruciferous vegetable bind together with some of the bile acids in the intestine in such a way that they simply stay inside the intestine and pass out of our body in a bowel movement, rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, our liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon our existing supply of cholesterol, and as a result, our cholesterol level drops down. Turnip greens provide us with this cholesterol-lowering benefit whether they are raw or cooked. However, a recent study has shown that the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw turnip greens improves significantly when they are steamed. In fact, when the cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed turnip greens was compared with the cholesterol-lowering ability of the prescription drug cholestyramine (a medication that is taken for the purpose of lowering cholesterol), mustard greens bound 34% as many bile acids (based on a standard of comparison involving total dietary fiber).
It's impossible to talk about the cardiovascular benefits of turnip greens without also mentioning their exceptional folate content. Although this cruciferous vegetable scores a rating of "excellent" in our food rating system, we would like to point out just how "excellent" excellent is when you're talking about turnip greens. These greens provide 575 micrograms of folate in every hundred calories. That's an amount that is unsurpassed by the most commonly-eaten cruciferous vegetables! Folate is a critical B-vitamin for support of cardiovascular health, including its key role in prevention of homocysteine build-up (called hyperhomocysteinemia).
The fiber content of turnip greens—over 5 grams in every cup—makes this cruciferous vegetable a natural choice for digestive system support. And although not yet confirmed in large-scale human research studies, we eventually expect to see some special digestive benefits coming from turnip greens in the area of glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, and stomach bacteria. While glucoraphanin (a glucosinolate found in many cruciferous vegetables, and the precursor for sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate with important properties involving regulation of a stomach bacteria called Helicobacter pylori) does not appear to be present in turnip greens in significant amounts, other glucosinolates present in turnip greens may provide similar health benefits with respect to prevention of Helicobacter pylori overgrowth in our stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to our stomach wall.
All cruciferous vegetables provide integrated nourishment across a wide variety of nutritional categories and provide broad support across a wide variety of body systems as well. For more on cruciferous vegetables see:
Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant, better known for its tasty root. Turnip, which scientifically known as Brassica rapa, belongs to the Cruciferae family, a cousin to other health-protective giants including kale, collards, cabbage, and broccoli.
Turnip leaves are smaller and more tender than their cousin, collards. Their slightly bitter flavor is delicious. Turnip greens are an important vegetable in traditional Southern American cooking.
Turnips are an ancient vegetable that is thought to have been cultivated almost 4,000 years ago in the Near East. Both the Greeks and Romans thought highly of the turnip and developed several new varieties. Its widespread popularity in Europe has continued, although since the advent of the potato, it is less widely cultivated than it once was.
Turnips were introduced into North America by the early European settlers and colonists. They grew well in the South and became a popular food in the local cuisine of this region. Turnip greens, which became an integral part of Southern African-American cuisine, are thought to have been adopted into this food culture because of the role they played during the days of slavery. Supposedly, the slave owners would reserve the turnip roots for themselves, leaving the leaves for the slaves. As Western African cuisine traditionally utilizes a wide variety of green leaves in its cooking, the African slaves adopted turnip greens as a substitute and incorporated them into their foodways.
Turnip greens are usually available with their roots attached. Look for greens that are unblemished, crisp, and deep green in color.
If you have purchased turnip greens with roots attached, remove them from the root. Store root and greens in separate plastic bags, removing as much of the air from the bags as possible. Place in refrigerator where the greens should keep fresh for about 4 days.
Rinse turnip greens under cold running water. Chop greens into 1/2-inch slices for quick and even cooking.
To get the most health benefits from turnip greens, we recommend letting them sit for a minimum of 5 minutes before cooking. Sprinkling with lemon juice before letting them sit may be able to help activate their myrosinase enzymes and increase formation of beneficial isothiocyanates in the greens.
We recommend Healthy Steaming turnip greens for maximum nutrition and flavor. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a rapid boil, chop greens. Steam for 5 minutes and toss with Mediterranean Dressing, which includes 1 TBS lemon juice, 1 medium clove garlic (pressed or chopped), 3 TBS extra virgin olive oil salt, and black pepper to taste . Top with your favorite optional ingredients.