Sunday, 15 November 2015

How to Grow Turnips and Rutabagas

There is nothing in the garden quite as unromantic as a turnip, unless perhaps it’s a rutabaga. It is strongly flavored, good storing root vegetables; they are rarely invited to sit at formal tables. But they are good earthy peasant food. Most people insist on a bowl of buttered mashed turnips at thanks giving dinner, and they are also good cut up in soups.

Turnips are small, usually white, and have no necks rather like the children in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The leaves, which are green and fuzzy, sprout right from the root itself and are an excellent, nutritious cooked green especially tasty with pieces of ham, slab bacon added. Some turnips have yellow flesh, others have white. Some varieties are grown for the root, others for the greens, still others for both. Rutabagas, sometimes called “Swede Turnips”, are five or six inches in diameter and purplish in color. They look somewhat like a rounded sweet potato. 

The flesh inside is usually yellow. There is a neck or crown one or two inches long, from which sprout smooth bluish leaves. Once got through a rather lean winter on rutabaga crop; the tubers coated with paraffin and stored in the basement, lasted all winter long. Both turnips and rutabagas are cool weather crops that get tough and woody and go to seed in hot weather. Which to grow? If you want an early spring crop, or want to grow cooking greens, choose turnips. For a fall crop that will keep a while in the ground and for a long time in your cellar, rutabagas are a better choice, and to some palates they are sweeter tasting. But turnips are twice as fast to mature almost 35 to 60 days compared to rutabagas 90.

Select a Site

A sunny location is appreciated, but not essential. A 4 * 4 foot bed will give you up to twenty five rutabagas and up to thirty turnips.  Since both members are belongs to cabbage family, try not to plant either where other cabbage vegetables have recently grown.

Select a Soil

Soil texture is important for both turnips and rutabagas, as it is for any root crop. Make the soil loose, well drained, and well ventilated by incorporating plenty or organic matter into it. Moreover you should use rotted manure, compost or commercial bagged humus, and dig it in to a depth of at least seven inches, especially for rutabagas, whose tubers are larger and whose root systems go down several feet. Therefore, both like a neutral pH but will tolerate a pH as low as 5.5. Moreover lime the soil if it is more acid than pH 5.5. Turnips are not very heavy feeders as vegetables go; soil of moderate fertility is adequate with one exception. If you are trying to grow a spring turnip crop before hot weather comes, you do want fast growth. So give spring turnips a good dose of 5-10-10. Rutabagas like slightly richer soil than fall turnips. And make sure your soil has adequate phosphorus for foot development, no matter when you plant.

How to Plant

Well, spring turnips should be planted as early in spring as you can work the soil late winter in warm climates or set into pre dug furrows even earlier than that, for fall turnips, wait until mid or late summer in the north, and even until late fall and winter in the south. Well, you can plant rutabagas in spring when the ground has warmed or early summer in the north, allowing three months before the first average frost. You can plant them in mid or late summer farther south; to be sure the tubers are forming in cooler weather. Seeds are sown directly in the garden. They are very tiny, but try to get them about an inch apart. They should be sown ¼ inch deep in spring, but ½ inch deep in warm weather, in well moistened furrows. The seeds germinate quickly but do not like to come up through a crust, so just sift some compost or fine soil over the furrow and then keep it moistened.

Rows should be at least 15 inches apart for turnips, and at least 18 inches for rutabagas. When the seedlings are five to six inches high, thin them to three to four inches apart, eating the thinning as greens (young turnip leaves are even good raw in salads). Thinning is not as important if you are growing just for green; but tubers of both turnips and rutabagas need ample room to reach full size undisturbed, so be sure to thin if you want to harvest those. Rutabagas should be thinned to at least six to eight inches apart to permit good root development.


Both crops need careful but frequent cultivation to keep the weeds down. Mulch will help, but be sure to sprinkle some lime on the soil first if the mulch is an acid one like bark. Turnips appreciate a good, deep soaking with water once a week if the weather is dry. Rutabagas are drought tolerant within reason, since the roots go so deep. Top dressing should not be necessary with either turnips or rutabagas as long as your soil is moderately fertile, except perhaps with spring turnips. But if you do top dress, use a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus, and once that is high in phosphorus, and one that is high in nitrogen only if you are growing turnip greens not tubers.

Pests and Diseases

For the most part the same ills that beset cabbage and other members of that family afflict rutabagas and turnips. Control root maggots by dusting the soil with wood ashes, and if necessary by covering seedlings with cheesecloth to keep off flies that lay the eggs from which the maggots hatch. Small holes in the leaves indicate flea beetles, which can be hosed off or dusted with rotenone. Treat aphids the same way. Club-root and black-root are occasional problems. Rutabagas can rot in the center from insufficient boron in the soil, an affliction known as brown heart. If this condition appears, dig a little Borax into the soil and soak it thoroughly with a   hose.


Dig turnips when they are two or three inches in diameter. A few light frosts may improve the flavor of both tops and roots, but do not let them freeze solid. Cut off the tops and store the tubers in a cool place, just above 32 degree. Harvest rutabagas while the ground is still soft enough to dig, and cut off the tops and any long roots projecting from the tuber. Store them the same way you do turnips burying them in a container of barely moist sand will help keep them from drying out. 

Dipping them in paraffin will also prolong their keeping time, as it will keep moisture from escaping from the tubers. Just scrape off the paraffin along with the skins when you peel them for cooking. Turnip greens can be eaten as early as you do your thinning and as late as a month or so after planting. If you are growing a root turnip crop, you can still harvest a few outer leaves from the plants occasionally to make a meal of greens. But do not cut off all the greens if you want to harvest the tubers at least not until it is time to dig the tubers up.


For early turnip crops, grow all seasons, while flat, shogoin, Tokyo Cross, just right, Tokyo Market, Jersey Lily or Extra Early White. For greens grow Seven Top, Shogoin, all top hybrids or Just right, Purple Top White Globe and Aberdeen yellow are good for fall and for storage. The standard rutabaga varieties are American purple Top, Laurentian, Long Island Improved, and Macomber, a white fleshed type that keeps very well.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

How to Grow Parsnip, Salsify and Scorzonera

Parsnips take some patience. The seeds are slow sprouting, the plants are slow growing, and he whole crop can take a good year to produce if you do it right. But they’re easy, pest free and well worth the wait. They look like white carrots but are fatter on top and skinnier on the bottom Parsnips texture is somewhat potato like, and they are rather caloric as vegetables go, especially since they absolutely demand, in my mind, to be smothered in large amounts of butter. They are also sweet and flavorful in soups and stews.

Therefore, parsnips are biennials that would send up flower stalks and bloom the second season if you let them, but you don’t. You plant them very early in the spring, pick some in fall after a few freezes, and winter them in the ground for an early spring harvest. Parsnips actually turn sweeter after they have been frozen a few times, since the starch in them turns to sugar. So while they may look ready to dig, it is best to leave them in the ground for a while. Please be in mind that patience with parsnips pays off.

Salsify, or oyster plant, is often grouped with parsnip because it is closely related and is grown the same way. It looks like a slightly shorter, thinner parsnip. “Black Salsify” or “Scorzonera” is not even closely related to either, though it looks like black skinned, white fleshed salsify. It is grown like salsify, and it is convenient to put in next to parsnips and salsify in books and seed catalogs as well as in gardens. All three are more popular in cool climate than hot ones, but you can grow them in the south by planting them in early summer and wintering them in the ground.

Selecting a Site and Soil

Well, the site and space requirements for parsnips salsify and Scorzonera are the same as far carrots, except that they will occupy their plot for the whole growing season.  Moreover, the soil should very deep, moderately rich, and not too sandy, heavy or stony exactly what you would prepare for carrots except that you should pulverize the soil a bit deeper. Obstacles will cause distortion of the roots. Very sandy soil will encourage large, useless side roots to form, and heavy clay soil will be hard for the roots to penetrate. To correct either condition or plenty of organic matter until the texture is that a good average loam. Therefore, if you still suspect the soil is too heavy, make a large, parsnip shaped planting hole for each plant by plunging a crowbar into the soil, wagging it back and forth, and filling the hole with a a more hospitable material such as aged compost or light rich soil. Moreover, avoid too fresh manure or soil that it too rich in nitrogen, which will cause branching of the roots.

Being tap-rooted, these vegetables will accept slightly dry soils better than most, since they will dig down for water beneath the surface; they will also tolerate slightly poorer soils. But do not ask the impossible from them. What you want to give them is a moderate but consistent supply of water and nutrients, for a long, slow, steady season of growth. The pH can be anywhere in between 6-8.

How to Planting

Well, if you want to grow, and then sow the seeds outdoors in the garden as soon as the ground can be worked, usually early April where live. If you wait too long, the plants may not get the full growth they need before cool weather slows the growth down in fall. Parsnips and salsify take about three and a half months to mature, and Scorzonera takes four. It is recommended planting by the traditional row method to make mulching easier. Make the rows 12 to 18 inches apart. You can make this crop better pay for its year long stay in one spot by inter-planting the rows with an early crop such as spinach or lettuce. Moreover, you need to use fresh new seeds, and soak them overnight in warm water to shorten the two to three week germination period. They can be mixed with sand or coffee grounds for easier planting. Hence, make a furrow and moisten it well, then sow seed thickly because germination of parsnip and salsify is notoriously poor, even with brand new seed this is normally not a problem with Scorzonera. Also cover the seeds with a half inch of very light, fine soil, or even vermiculite, because they will balk and a surface crust just as badly as carrots will. Pat the soil lightly and water it well with a fine spray.

Keep the seed bed moist during the germination period. If you are like me, you can very easily forget to do this, but there are some tricks to make up for lack of vigilance. Put wet burlap, sphagnum moss or even wooden boards over the seeds till they come up. An even better trick is to plant radish seed mixed in with the parsnip seed. When the fast sprouting radish seedlings break the surface, they will also shade the spindly young parsnip seedlings, keeping them from drying out. By the time you’re pulling the radishes, the parsnips should be tall enough to thin four inches tall or more. If you have made crowbar holes, thin each cluster to one plant, snipping the extras with scissors.

How to Growing

Well, while they are growing, the plants cannot take much completion, so cultivate and weed often unless you have good thick mulch that is keeping the weeds at bay. But make sure the soil does not get too dry, especially if the bed is not mulched. Therefore, unless you have used pretty rich soil, or a slow release fertilizer, an occasional light top dressing during the summer will keep growth going, but do not overdo it.

Pets and Diseases

Neither insects nor diseases should be a problem. You might get celery leaf miners that tunnel into the leaves; if so scrape off the little blisters you will find on them. If your plants get canker, making the roots rot, combat it next time by planting a later crop, using no manure and checking the pH. If your soil is very acid, raise it to pH 7.0 by adding the appropriate amount of lime.


If you’re harvesting in fall, then dig the roots and store them as you would carrots. For overwintering in the ground, pile on at least a foot of leaves or straw or some other loose mulch, as soon as the ground threatens to freeze in earnest. During winter thaws you can pull a few up, but as soon as the ground has really softened in spring, harvest all of them. Do not let the tops start growing again or you will ruin the roots flavor.


Shopping for parsnip varieties is easy. The best variety is “Harris Model” “Hollow Crown” a faster crop, is also good. The standard salsify is “sandwich Island Mammoth”. The one name Scorzonera variety I have seen so far is “Gigantea”.