Lowly Turnip’s Sweet, Juicy Roots and Tasty Greens Pack Nutrition
Sink your teeth into a freshly harvested, crisp turnip this time of year.
True, a basketful of even the best turnips is not as tasty as a basketful of peaches. Still, the lowly turnip has much to offer. Grown well, the roots are sweet and juicy, good either raw or cooked.
The plant extends the harvest from the vegetable garden well into fall and winter. The roots and tops (the “greens”) of turnips taste good and can be harvested well into fall, maybe even winter.
What’s more, turnips are nutritious. Ounce for ounce, the tops have more than twice the calcium of milk and almost a third the iron of liver. There’s about the same amount of vitamin C in a turnip root as in an orange, and four times that amount of vitamin C is found in turnip greens.
The secret to growing good turnips is to sow the seed thinly in reasonably rich soil. Just a few seeds need be sown every inch, and the seedings should be thinned to 3 inches apart as soon as they start to crowd one another.
Turnips need to grow fairly rapidly without undue crowding, or else they become sharp-tasting and take on a woody texture.
You can plant turnips now, but if you wait until the late summer the sweet, crisp roots are ready to harvest during the similarly crisp days of fall. Turnips sown early in the season tend to go to seed, sending up flower stalks before forming full-size, or particularly good-tasting, roots.
But even this bad habit of “going to seed” has been turned to an asset in the turnip. Some turnips are grown specifically for these shoots, which look like small broccoli shoots and are called broccoli di rapa or broccoli raab. Any turnip will do for broccoli raab, even though some varieties have been bred specifically for this use.
You also can induce excess turnips that mature in the fall to become broccoli raab. The turnip is normally a biennial plant, which means it grows roots one season and then sends up a flower stalk in its second season (behavior often gone awry in spring-sown turnips).
As winter settles in, cover excess turnips with a thick mulch--of autumn leaves, for example--as protection from cold. Come spring, unharvested roots will still be alive and, with warm weather, these roots will send up flower stalks. Just as with broccoli, it is important to harvest the stalks before the flowers open.
Another secret to growing turnips is not to grow too many. Turnips are easy to grow and having an excess may make them lose their appeal. Plan to grow 5 to 10 feet of row, which yields 5 to 10 pounds of turnip, per person. Double that amount to store some for eating through winter.