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How to Grow Sweet Salad Turnips (with Recipes)

If you’ve never eaten a salad turnip, and you probably haven’t, it’s unlikely you think they sound very exciting.

Back when the Organic Growers School was Saturday only, they did an experimental Sunday session in Burnsville, NC. Among skills like how to build hoop houses and grow through the winter, I mostly remember taste-testing the ‘Hakurei’ turnips that Patryk Battle brought to share.

Photo Caption: 'Hakurei' is fast, delicious, and pretty. The entire plant is tender and sweet enough to be used raw in salads!

Since then I haven’t spent a season without them. My stepfather laughed when he dropped by the other day and caught my husband and I standing in the garden eating them like apples — but they really are that good!

They aren’t like traditional turnips. The main difference is that they are soft enough to be cut with a butter knife and lack the spicy flavor that lends itself to roasting. These turnips are meant to be eaten out-of-hand. Even the greens are fantastic! Sometimes I make a ‘Hakurei’ salad out of nothing but the tender raw greens with diced roots sprinkled on top.

Photo Caption: Turnips are great for intensive planting because they can be removed once surrounding crops get large.

They are so unusual that I only know of three varieties (if you know more, let me know in the comments). ‘Hakurei’ is a Japanese hybrid available from Kitazawa Seed Co. and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This year I was surprised to see Ferry-Morse selling them on the seed racks at local nurseries in our area.

‘Oasis’ is also a hybrid. I’ve grown both ‘Oasis’ and ‘Hakurei’ for the past two seasons and admit that I can’t tell them apart. Fedco Seeds, Burpee, and Nichol’s Garden Nursery all carry this variety.

If you are a seed saver you can try the open pollinated ‘Tokyo Market’ available from Evergreen Asian Seeds, Kitazawa Seed Co., and Nichol’s Garden Nursery. It is slightly flattened in shape compared to the first two and has a comparable flavor. I like it, but found it was a bit more susceptible to getting hot when the weather warmed up.

Another open-pollinated option could be ‘White Egg’ (also called ‘Snowball’) which is available from Victory Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I’ve seen it recommended for this use — however, I’m pretty sure that ‘White Egg’ is just a white roasting turnip and not the salad variety.

I’ve heard of a salad turnip called ‘White Doll’ but I can’t find confirmation that it is actually a separate named variety — there doesn’t seem to be nurseries selling the seed.

Photo Caption: Most of the time our salad turnips end up sprinkled over mixed greens. We love these raw turnips so much that my husband wants to plant entire beds of them this winter.

Radishes are considered the benchmark of easy-to-grow vegetables but I think turnips deserve equal credit. A mulched bed of salad turnips takes little care and will be ready to eat in 30 – 60 days. Start harvesting when the roots are the size of ping pong balls.

I like to sow my turnips about 1″ apart and thin them as they grow — they are edible at any stage. If you want to pick large turnips, they need to be about 3″ apart in your beds. A nice habit of turnips is that the root grows above the soil so you can simply look at them to see when to pick. We eat baby turnips only weeks after sowing and softball-sized turnips later on. I’ve never had a salad turnip turn woody and hot.

Turnips will mature more slowly if grown in hot weather or without consistent water. As with most root vegetables, they are unlikely to form fat roots if their taproot is disturbed. Direct-seeding works much better than attempts to transplant turnips.

In the south, turnips should be sown 2 months before your frost-free date (if the soil can be worked) through up to 2 weeks after it. In the late summer to fall they can be started under shade cloth so they will mature as the weather cools off. If you use a row cover you can grow them right through the winter in most of the southeast (except in the highest altitudes). Try sowing new seeds every 2 weeks to get the most out of your growing season.

Turnips rarely have pest problems detrimental enough to bother over. A few holes in the leaves will disappear when you cook them and a nibbled spot on the root can be trimmed off. Their most destructive enemies includes rabbits, cabbage butterflies, and looper moths. The first can be excluded with a fence, the latter two with lightweight row covers since turnips do not need visits from pollinating insects.

The only preparation a salad turnip really needs before you eat it is a quick rinse and perhaps a sprinkling of salt. If you grow enough of them to crave some variety, here are some recipe options:

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