If you don’t live in the southern United States you may think the only part of a turnip to eat is the root, but here in the south the green leafy growth of the turnip is prized for its nutritious fresh flavor.  The tastiest and freshest turnip greens come from your own garden.  This article will tell you how to grow them.

Grow All You Need in a Small Space

In the south, truck farmers grow acres of turnips, but a well fertilized and watered 10 foot patch of turnips will meet the needs of a small family.

Start with Loose Well Tilled Soil

If your garden soil is mostly clay, you will need to amend it with some organic material.  Dig a trench about 18 inches deep and fill it with leaves, rotted wood, or other organic material such as cow, horse, or chicken manure.  Cover with the original soil.  Putting a layer of pine needles at the very bottom of the trench will enhance drainage.  Damp, drained, and fertilized is the key to high quality turnip greens.

Select the Right Seeds

Some turnip seeds are optimized for turnip roots, some are optimized for greens, and some are multi-purpose.  Some seeds that produce a good crop of greens include the following:

  • Seven Top
  • Alltop
  • Shogoin
  • Topper

Plant A Double Row of Turnips

Now it’s time to plant your turnip seeds.

With a stick run couple of marker lines through the soil, about 2 feet apart,  and sow the turnip seeds loosely around the lines with a density of about a dozen seeds per foot.  Later you will thin the seeds.  Rake between 1/4″ and 1/2″ of soil over the seeds, and keep the seeds wet until they germinate.

Mulch Around the Turnips

Wait until the turnips sprout, so you can see what you are doing and you won’t accidentally mulch over the them, then put some kind of much around them.  Almost any kind of mulch is good — wood chips, straw, leaves, pine needles . . . . etc . . . but in my opinion the best way to mulch is put down some rotted leaves, covered by cardboard, and then more mulch leaves or other mulch.  See Mulch for Garden Success for more information.

Pests

The worst pests you will probably encounter are moths and caterpillars.   We recommend Dipel or other Bacillus Thuringiensis based product.

Water and Fertilize

If you have elevated and well drained soil it is almost impossible to over-water your turnips.  Depending upon your conditions, watering your turnip greens about every three days should be sufficient (less if you are getting a lot of rain, or in very cool weather).  If you have done a good job mulching your turnip greens they shouldn’t require a lot of water — perhaps a gallon or two from a watering can each time.  Use your own judgement.  It is not practical for commercial turnip growers to water this often, so this is where you can really get an advantage in producing tender delicate leafy greens of the highest quality.

There are several options for fertilizing.  For relatively small gardens, Miracle Grow (or generic substitute) works well.  Otherwise you can side dress your plants with 10-10-10 fertilizer before it rains or before you water them.  Turnip greens should be fertilized every few weeks, if they are well watered.

Another way to give your turnip greens a boost is to mix 10-10-10 granular fertilizer into your rows before planting the seeds.  Use about a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer for a 10 foot double row of greens.

Pick and Eat

As the plants approach a foot tall thin them by pulling up entire plants for cooking.  When the plants are sufficiently thinned, change your harvest strategy to pulling off outer leaves and let the plants regenerate leaves from the inside.  This will maximize your yield.

If you followed the directions in this article and kept your turnips well watered and fertilized, you will have superior turnips and no matter how you choose to cook them they will taste better.