Turnip and Rutabaga Varieties
Turnips and rutabagas are two lesser known vegetables, but staples in many European diets.
Turnips -- Staple of the South
Young turnips are so tender you can peel and eat them just as you would an apple. Southern gardeners often don't even let the roots develop, preferring to grow turnips for the greens, which are served in more ways than you can imagine! Whether you're growing turnips for the greens or the roots, you'll find that they're a versatile and highly nutritious vegetable.
If you ate a portion of turnip greens and roots daily, you could practically stop taking your daily vitamins. The roots contain vitamins A and C, and the greens are rich in calcium and iron, as well as thiamine and other B vitamins. A daily diet of turnips might be boring, but it sure would be good for you.
Turnips germinate and grow quickly compared with most of the other root crops, and they have definite temperature preferences for best production - they're not at all happy in hot weather. If the temperature is above 80oF for days at a time, it can cause turnips to mature before their time, giving them a strong, bitter flavor and woody flesh.
In the North, plant turnips in April and again in mid-August. Like the rest of the root crops, turnips tolerate frosts well, so plant them both early and late. In the South, plant during the cool fall and winter months.
To stretch the turnip harvest over a two- or three-month period, plant two or three varieties in the first planting. The roots will mature at different times instead of all at once. You can also harvest some turnips very early as greens, and small roots for eating fresh. Any turnip can be grown for its greens if harvested young, so you don't need to plant special "foliage" varieties, even if you want more greens than roots.
Rutabagas -- "Half and Half" Vegetables
Rutabagas are a gardening wonder. They originated in the Middle Ages as a cross between cabbages and turnips, and they've developed into high-yielding, nutritious, easy-to-grow vegetables.
Along with turnips and radishes, rutabagas belong to the same family as cabbages. Rutabagas look a lot like turnips, and they, too, can be grown for both their greens and their roots.
Rutabagas go by many names: Swedish turnip, table turnip, mangel-wurzel, macomber or turnip-rooted cabbage, but they all refer to the same plant.
Rutabagas take longer to mature than turnips, but otherwise they grow the same way. The advantage of growing rutabagas is that they don't get pithy if you leave them in the ground beyond their maturity date. They also have a longer storage life, their root flesh is firmer and they contain more vitamin A than turnips.
Instead of sticking with the familiar turnip, give rutabagas a try.
This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Other Root Crops / Getting Started.