Beets and Turnips
Beets and turnips are special greens because their roots are also edible. Beet greens are most nutritious and taste best when they're harvested young and tender. Fortunately, there's an easy way to have a lot of young greens and still keep plants in the garden for a long time to produce plenty of mature beet roots for later.
The secret is to plant beets in fairly thick wide rows. Beet seeds resemble tiny scraps of cork and are bigger than most other salad and green crop seeds. Beet seeds are actually a dried fruit with up to six seeds inside. So spacing them at least one inch apart is important. Try a 15-inch-wide row if you haven't planted wide-row style before.
Plant early in the season, two to four weeks before the last frost-free date. After the seedlings are up, thin with a rake and then sit back and wait for the green bonanza.
Start gathering your greens when the plants are about six inches tall. Pull up the entire plant, and if there's a small beet on the bottom, so much the better. Cook it right along with the greens for added flavor.
'Detroit Dark Red' and 'Red Ace' are two well-known varieties. Both produce excellent greens and good-sized, tasty beets. For a more unusual type, try 'MacGregor's Favorite', which produces narrow, spear-shaped red leaves but no beet root.
A dish of turnip greens may sound like dreary eating, but only if you've never tried them. Cooked with salt pork or bacon, and served with butter or vinegar, greens can be a real taste treat. They're also very nutritious: Turnip greens are high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.
Turnips are a cool-weather crop, so plant them early in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked, and again toward the end of summer for a fall crop. Spring is a great time to concentrate on turnip greens - you don't have to worry about summer heat spoiling any turnips underground. You simply harvest the plants when the roots are small before hot weather comes.
Fall plantings are popular in the South, too, because in most places you can plant anytime from August to October. The cool fall and mild winter temperatures keep the harvest going for several months. Of course, Southern turnip-lovers plant in the spring, too. In some Southern areas, you can plant every couple of weeks from February to May. With a system like that you'll have nothing but young, tasty greens.
Wide rows, 15 to 16 inches across, are great for turnips. Plant thickly, and once the plants are four to five inches tall, start thinning them by hand and boil up the tasty greens. You can eat a lot of greens this way and still afford to let some plants develop big roots below ground.
Some people harvest just the big outside leaves from turnips, so the plants can produce more leaves from the center bud. Others prefer to pull up the whole plant because the small leaves are the most tender.
You can eat greens from any turnip variety, but 'Seven Top' and 'White Lady' are favorites because of their lush, tender foliage.
This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Lettuce and Greens / Getting Started.