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.
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.
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.
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:
- Speedy Sautéed Hakurei Turnips and Greens from EveningEdge.com
- Sautéed Hakurei Turnips and Greens from Atlanta Magazine
- Sautéed Hakurei Turnips and Braised Greens at Food.com
- Hakurei Turnip Greens with Clementines at Eno River Farmers Market
- Butter Cooked Hakurei Turnips with Snap Peas from With Fork & Knife
- Braised Hakurei Turnips from Charleston Magazine
- Glazed Hakurei Turnips from Bon Appétit magazine
- Curried Hakurei Turnips from The Veggie Project
- Hakurei Turnip Gratin from GF-Zing!
- Hakurei Turnip Gratin from Lighter & Local @ Foodbuzz
- Roasted Radishes, Hakurei Turnips, and Scallions from Farmer Dave’s
- No Room in the Fridge Curried Greens Soup from Farmer Dave’s
- Shaved Vegetable Salad from Laura Calder @ The Cooking Channel
- Warm Grain Salad with Hakurei Turnips from Hearthstrung
- Greenhouse Salad with Hakurei Turnips from Shape magazine
- Radish & Hakurei Turnip Salad in Asian Dressing from Green Earth Institute
- Hakurei Turnip Salad with Orange Chile Mustard Vinaigrette at Dinner with Dilip
- Cucumber and Hakurei Turnip Salad from Elly Says Opa!
- Hakurei Turnips and Candied Pecan Salad from SparkRecipes
- Quinoa and Turnip Salad with Oranges from NC Preppers
- Orzo with Asparagus and Turnip from Cook It Yourself
- Turnip, Carrot, and Gruyère Salad from Culinate
- Hakurei Turnip Kimchi from Farmer Dave’s