How to grow organic Turnips
by Frann Leach
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Tasty young turnips

Brassica campestris Rapifera group

Family: Cruciferae (Group 2)

Turnips are grown mainly for their roots, which can be flat, round or long in shape, with white or yellow flesh. The leafy tops can also be used, and make excellent spring greens. By selecting appropriate cultivars, turnips can be available for use all year round.

Recommended varieties

Earlies: Snowball, Purple Top Milan, Tokyo Cross F1 (sow May-August)
Maincrop: Golden Ball

Site and soil

Choose an open, unshaded site with fertile, well-drained and moisture retentive soil, which should be slightly acid (min pH 5.4, but see note on clubroot - add lime if necessary to adjust pH). Brassicas have a high nitrogen requirement and also need very firm soil. To ensure sufficient nutrient levels, it is best to topdress or apply a liquid feed such as seaweed fertiiser during growth.

Because brassicas are prone to soil infections, for example, Clubroot, it's important to use a minimum 3 year rotation plan.

Turnips like cool, moist conditions; summer sowings can be made in light shade, provided there is plenty of moisture in the soil. The soil should have plenty of organic matter worked in for the previous crop, or a top dressing of general fertiliser applied before sowing.


Sow thinly and successionally from mid March to mid August on well prepared soil about 2cm (¾") deep, early cultivars in 22cm (9") rows, winter cultivars in 30cm (12") rows. Thin gradually to 10cm (4") apart for earlies, 15cm (6") for maincrop. It is important this is carried out as soon as possible when seedlings are about 2.5cm (1") tall.

Keep soil well weeded and water in dry weather at 2 gals/sq yard per week.


Early turnips mature in 6-10 weeks, and are best used small, as they deteriorate rapidly. They can be pulled like radishes when 4-5cm (1½-2") in diameter and eaten raw, or up to tennis ball size for cooking. Hardy cultivars may take 3 months to mature and are grown for autumn use and storage. They can be left in the soil until late December, then lifted and stored in soil covered clamps.

Turnips for spring greens

Sow thinly in rows 15cm (6") apart in August and September or as early in spring as soil conditions allow. The first cutting can be made when seedlings are 12-15cm (5-6") tall, about 2.5cm (1") above soil level. If left longer they become tough. Provided the ground is not allowed to dry out, several further cuttings can be made before they run to seed.

Pests and diseases

Most common is flea beetle, which can be prevented with crop covers.
Turnip gall weevil may cause hollow swellings on the roots, but is not generally serious. Discard galled seedlings.
Mealy cabbage aphid and cabbage root fly are other possible pests.
Mildew is the most common disease - increase aeration if possible and avoid overcrowding.

Note on clubroot

Soil may remain infected for 20 years; steps to avoid introduction include:

  • good drainage
  • rotation
  • liming acid soils to a pH around 7
  • working in high levels of organic matter
  • ensuring clean plants are used - source must be known to be free of disease (best grown at home in sterile medium)
  • boots and tools used on infected land must be thoroughly cleaned before use on clean land

Once infected avoid growing any brassicas except fast maturing types such as Texsel greens or cut and come again oriental seedlings. If you have no other land available, and you must grow types with a lengthy growing season, you can try sowing seed in modules, and potting up until the plants reach a height of 10cm (4") before planting out. A root drench may also help.

©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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