Not Your Old Fashioned Turnip


Yesterday we talked about the waning popularity of what once was the most widespread early European vegetable.  It’s virtues are ones which are less important today than they have been historically, and they have fallen out of popular use while root vegetables from the Americas — potatoes and sweet potatoes — have found favor around the world.

Plant breeders have noticed and responded with a series of “salad turnips” which are sweeter and milder and can be eaten either raw or cooked.  They remain tender even at a large 3-4″ size, come in early than old style globe turnips, and are dead easy to grow.  Unfortunately, they lose the long storing capacity of the old fashioned turnip.  I have personally grown two varieties:

  • The white turnips pictured above are “Hakurei,” an early hybrid developed in Japan in the 1950’s.  The ideal is 2-3″ and perfectly round.  Due to the heavy nature of my soil, I mostly get ovals popping halfway out of the ground, but they taste the same and the plant easily tolerates these conditions.  Direct seeded in mid to late August, I can begin harvesting in early October or even late September.  The tops are hairless and mild, but not very large.  The turnip has a creamy, smooth flesh and almost no skin.  Hakurei is a favorite of CSAs and market growers, so if you head down to your local farmer’s market in fall, you can probably find them to give them a taste test.
  • The deep pink turnips above are “Scarlet Queen,” another F1 salad turnip which produces in about 75 days.  They are a flattened oval with a bright skin, crisp interior, and large deep green tops with reddish-purple veins.  At first glance, they somewhat resemble a beet, but their taste and texture is very similar to that of a mild radish.  It’s a beauty to look at, but the skin is tougher than Hakurei and I experienced some rot problems.  This is my first year with Scarlet Queen, so it may be a problem with just this season, but I haven’t any rot with Hakurei in about 5 seasons of growing.

I can’t do a “by the numbers” post for turnips, simply because average retail prices for turnips aren’t even tracked on the USDA prices reports, although conventionally grown turnip greens are currently averaging $1.88/pound(Please note this link updates weekly, so next week may have different numbers than when I wrote this.)  That means the greens can easily be cost effective, although if your only interest is turnip greens, there are better varieties to try.

In addition to the virtues of the greens, these salad turnips take the same amount of effort to grow as radishes, yet yield a much larger root for the same price and effort.  In my opinion, that makes it worth trying salad turnips in your garden as a radish replacement when eaten raw, and a side dish when roasted.

A final note on root vegetables and rocky soil:

Unlike the marketing efforts of seed catalogs, I make an effort not to cherry pick the fruits and vegetables in my pictures, and I never beautify them in Photoshop beyond what’s needed to make an accurate photo.  Simply put, there is enough garden fantasy out there on the internet; I try to deal with reality on this blog.  So I went out and pulled up a few turnips, washed and dried them, and set then out for a picture.  That said, I did reject one of the turnips for the cover photo, but it does make a great example of why growing root vegetables is rocky soil isn’t always pretty.  (But it still tastes the same.)