The under-rated turnip!

Apr 30, 2022 | Brassicas, Gardening tips, Planting guides, Root Vegetables

Turnip top tips

  • Net seedlings
  • Water well
  • Succession plant for a constant supply
  • Eat when young

Turnips are a much under-rated but easily grown vegetable. The root can be eaten raw either grated into a coleslaw or sliced for a salad or cut into fingers for dips; roasted, steamed or boiled as an individual vegie; used in stir fries, stews and soup and as mash. The leaves can be cooked as a green vegetable or when young, used raw in pesto as a substitute for sweet basil.

What do turnips taste like?

Small turnips, harvestable in 6-7 weeks taste sweet with a slight spicy undertone. More mature turnips which are harvested at about the 8-10 week mark are more peppery and slightly bitter. They have quite a bite to them. Not everyone likes turnips. For some people they are delicious while others find them not to their taste.

What colour are turnips?

In colour, most turnips have white flesh but their skins which are also white develop a blush of red, purple or green where they emerge from the soil and are struck by the sun. This can be an attractive quality on the plate if unpeeled.

Varieties of turnip

Diggers sell Turnip ‘Purple Top’ which is an American heirloom variety and Turnip ‘Mini White’ which as the name suggests is eaten small, maturing in seven weeks. Yates sell ‘Japanese’ Turnip, Turnip ‘Hakurai ‘and ‘White Mini ‘plus an heirloom mix which includes turnips with a range of colour from white to yellow to red to purple.

Site and soil preparation for growing turnips

Choose a sunny spot with well drained soil. The soil needs to be prepared to a fine tilth (light and fluffy and free of debris) and just a bit deeper than the depth to which the turnip will grow. Do not add manure as this will cause the roots to split and fork. At most add some well-matured compost and dig it in some weeks before planting. Turnips grow well in both the ground and wicking beds.

Sowing and harvesting turnips

Direct sow seed into rows about 1cm deep. Sprinkle seed at intervals of about 9cm, cover with soil and water well. Rows need to be 25cm apart. It will take two weeks for seed to germinate and at that stage thin the plants out to 9cm intervals if necessary. At the six week mark pull several to check for size and harvest readiness. As turnips grow bigger, the tops will emerge from the soil, giving you a fair idea of their size when pulled. Every few weeks succession sow so that you have a constant supply.

Watering turnips

Water well and keep the moisture up as root vegetables thrive in moist, well drained soil. In moist soil, the root will not fork.


As members of the brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli etc), turnips are subject to the same pests. Leaves can be eaten by caterpillars, various aphids and whitefly, and roots by root maggots. To protect the leaves, spray top and underside with Dipel, an organic bacterium sold by Yates as ‘Nature’s Way,’ when they are two weeks old and then immediately net the rows. This works well. You may be able to buy small hoops that can be used to support the net. Transfer some ladybirds inside the net if you can, to polish off any aphids that appear.

The root maggot (also known as cabbage or turnip fly) is the size of a house fly. Its maggots attack roots causing significant damage and often death of the plant but in my garden this has not happened. It is good to rotate crops to avoid such problems. When plants are young, slugs can destroy plants. Either locate them up by torchlight at night and pick them up and dispose of them or set up beer traps which they are attracted to and in which they will drown, or put out snail bait. Sugar cane straw is also a deterrent as slugs, and also snails, don’t like to crawl across it.

Written by Robin Gale-Baker