Turnips and Rutabagas
Turnips and rutabagas are cool-weather vegetables with edible greens, but most frequently grown for their bulbous roots. Rutabagas are thought to be a cross between wild cabbage and turnips, all closely related cabbage family vegetables of the Brassica genus.
Similarities and Differences
- Both are best grown during cool months. They develop greater sweetness after light frosts.
- Both require fairly deep, amended beds for fast drainage and soil with low nitrogen content to avoid excessive leafy growth and misshapen roots.
- Turnips are tastiest when harvested at 2-3 in., rutabagas at 3-5 in. Varieties that produce the largest roots of both crops are used for animal feed, common in northern European climates.
- Turnips can be yellow, white or bi-colored, with white skin and red or purple shoulders.
- Rutabagas have yellow or brown skin and yellowish orange flesh, often with tinted shoulders.
- Turnips have a shorter growing season but rutabagas are more tolerant of colder weather.
- Rutabagas are slightly sweeter tasting than turnips, which are spicier, like radishes.
- Look for newer, white Japanese hybrids such as ‘Hakurei’ and ‘Tokyo’ that resemble large radishes in size, may be eaten like an apple, have improved greens, and mature in about 30 days.
- Expect 40-60 days to maturity for over 2 dozen older varieties that grow 3-4 in. roots.
- Direct seed March-April for a spring/early summer harvest or August-September for a fall/winter crop. High temperatures cause woody texture and unpleasant flavor.
- Sow seeds in full sun in loose, amended soil ¼- ½ in. deep, 1 in. apart. Thin to 4-6 in. apart when seedlings are about 2 in. high. Seeds germinate in 4-7 days.
- Provide water evenly to ensure mild-flavored turnips. Dry soil results in more robust, often unpleasant flavor.
- Harvest a few greens before bulbs completely mature. Harvest roots when small and tender, about 2-2½ in. wide. Most varieties become tough and woody as they age and increase in size.
- Protect turnips from freezing weather. They sweeten after a frost but do not withstand extended periods below 30 degrees.
- Store unwashed turnips in a cool, dark place up to 3 months.
- Watch for caterpillars, a frequent pest of Brassica genus crops (turnips, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, among others). Spun row covers help prevent or lessen their presence.
- Sow 6 or more seeds per foot ¼ in. deep in rows 18-24 in. apart. When plants are 2 in. tall, thin to 6-10 in. apart.
- Plan to grow in autumn when temperatures are 60-65 degrees. Rutabagas struggle to grow and flavor suffers when daytime temperatures are consistently greater than 80 degrees.
- Harvest in 90-110 days when roots reach 3-5 in. in width and after at least 2 light frosts for improved taste but before freezing conditions occur.
- Use a digging fork to lift roots, then trim, wash and dry them. Taste improves after storage in a cool, dark, moist environment. Store up to 3-4 months.
- Sonoma County Master Gardener Vegetable Planting Summary.