Small white globe turnips are a thing of beauty. If cropped when small they are a fairly mild but still delicious root vegetable and the leaves have a fairly mild brassica flavour almost like a spinach. Both are excellent if eaten young and fresh but also as the roots develop the flavour intensifies and becomes more complex.
Turnips – Brassica rapa subsp. rapa – often get bad press – mostly due to rough battered old dry shrivelled things commonly offered up for sale. Certain food cultures have a high regard for them and a range of interesting uses for them. Some have only ever used them for animal fodder like beetroots and mangelwurzels.
When small they can be just eaten fresh and they taste a lot like a mild radish verging on crunchy apple and they can be quickly tossed into salads or just eaten as a side dish with a nice herby dressing.
When you cook them they need very little heat for very little time and they tend to soak up flavours and become quite complex in flavour. I would recommend simply slicing them in half and dropping them into a covered pan with about 1cm of a preheated light chicken or vegetable stock for about 3 minutes only, and then eating them immediately as a side dish straight from the pan. Using a mandolin to thinly slice larger mature ones will allow you to get similar results.
They are very fast growing and like most of the root vegetables tend to like sandy light based soils, but will grow in heavier clay soils too as long as they are grown fast with a good layer of light mulch. Each turnip has it’s own growing level in the soil and most of them tend to be surface growers which have at least half of their mass out of the soil – so the mulch really helps to keep the skin free of blemishes and avoid sunburn etc. I use sugar cane mulch for this purpose.
They will respond to manures and I think that the best results i have is growing them in fairly ordinary soils – nutrient wise – but then with a good covering of manure and mulch at seeding time and plenty of regular moisture.
They only take about 4-5 weeks to get to a stage where you can start to pull small 1cm+ globes.
I have found that they can be fairly closely seeded – unless you are aiming to produce the larger roots.
They can be grown year round if you are in a temperate climate and they handle cold weather better than hot. In summer grow them in a shady spot where they can stay cool. They should be succession planted about every 2 weeks for a regular year round crop.
Getting seed for the most pure white versions can be hard as the very best are F1 so you can’t collect your own seed easily. But they are worth the work if you can physically isolate them from the other closely related brassicas or other coloured varieties.
These ones are about 2-3cm in diameter and perfect for eating.