This easy, compact and fast-growing vegetable is best sown little and often for harvesting across the seasons. The young roots are delicious raw, roasted or added to stews, and you can cook the leaves too, in a similar way to kale.
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Turnips are quick and easy to grow from seed, ready to harvest in as little as six to ten weeks. They like cool, moisture-retentive soil, in an open, sunny location.
You can also sow in large containers outdoors, for harvesting when small, as baby veg.
Varieties are divided into two main types, according to sowing and harvesting times:
Early turnips – sow March to June, for harvesting throughout summer
Maincrop turnips – sow July to mid-August, for harvesting in autumn and winter
Some early varieties, such as ‘Atlantic’ and ‘Milan Purple Top’, can also be sown under cloches in February.
Sow seeds thinly in shallow drills, 1cm (½in) deep. Space rows 23–30cm (9–12in) apart for early varieties, 30cm (1ft) apart for maincrops.
When growing plants only to harvest their leaves (turnip tops or Italian cima di rapa), sow in August or September, spacing rows just 15cm (6in) apart.
Thin out seedlings until they’re eventually 15cm (6in) apart for early varieties, and 23cm (9in) apart for maincrops. When growing just for the leafy tops, thinning isn’t usually necessary.
Water regularly, especially during dry weather, otherwise the roots will be small and woody. Dry conditions can also cause plants to bolt (flower), which stops the root swelling.
Early turnips: harvest from May to September when the size of a golf ball for eating raw, or the size of a tennis ball for cooking.
Maincrop turnips: harvest from mid-October onwards, when the size of a golf ball.
Turnip tops: harvest the leaves in March and April. The plants will re-sprout, so you can make several pickings.
Cabbage root fly
White larvae approximately 5cm (2in) long, feed on the roots just below the soil surface, stunting growth and causing plants to wilt and die.
Grow under insect-proof mesh or horticultural fleece. Seedlings are most vulnerable.
Leaves are covered in small holes and damaged areas turn brown. Seedlings are particularly susceptible.
Grow plants under horticultural fleece and keep the soil moist. Water in nitrogen-rich fertilser to help the crop outgrow the pest.
Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel.
Keep the soil moist and grow in cooler locations.
Roots become swollen and distorted, and leaves become pale and yellow and wilt easily. Plants may die.
Improve drainage and add lime to make soil more alkaline. Do not grow in affected soil.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.