When and How to Harvest Turnips?

Turnips are one of the first cultivated crops in history. Turnips are easy to grow and a good part of a healthy diet. Here is when and how to harvest turnips. 

Varieties of Turnips 

Turnips can be grown for their greens, their roots, or both. Here are the most common varieties for each use. 

For Greens 

Alamo and Topper do not produce a swollen root. They put all their energy into growing greens. 

For Roots 

Royal Crown and White Lady are grown primarily for their roots. 

For Greens and Roots 

Purple Top White Globe and Shogoin are grown by people who want to eat the greens and the roots. Shogoin is a white turnip.

When To Harvest Turnips 

Here is how to tell when the parts of the turnips are ready to harvest. 

Greens 

When turnip greens are about four inches tall, the turnips need to be thinned to one plant every three inches. You can eat the turnip greens you pull then raw or cooked. During the season, you can cut part of the greens off to eat or cut a few stalks off of each plant. At harvest, you can eat the greens. 

Roots 

The roots can be eaten raw when very small or cooked when larger. You can start harvesting the roots when they are about one to one and a half inches in diameter and cook them as baby turnips. Roots over three inches in diameter become pithy, pungent, and not good to eat, so harvest them when they are about two and three-quarters inches in diameter. It takes between 40-60 days for the roots to reach this size. 

Seeds 

Turnips have to go through a period of chilling before they produce seeds. Turnips are usually planted in the spring or fall and harvested in the same season. For seed, you will have to let some turnips overwinter. The turnips will send up a flower stalk in the following spring and produce seeds. The seeds are ready for harvest once they have dried on the stalks. 

How To Harvest Turnips 

Turnips are easy to harvest. 

Greens 

Eat greens pulled when thinning the turnips as part of a salad. Older greens can be cooked. Cut one-third of the leaf once every ten days or so, or cut one stalk off the plant. Be careful to leave enough stalks on the plant so it can photosynthesize and make energy. The more greens you remove from the plant, the smaller the root will be. I cut the greens off and have not seen any smaller turnips in my garden. 

Roots 

The roots can be pulled from the ground by grasping the greens at the base where they enter the root and pulling them up. Alternatively, you can use a trowel and dig under the root, then lift it up. 

Seeds 

Remove the seeds from the flower stalk and spread them on some newspaper for two days so they can completely dry. 

How To Store Turnips 

Storing turnips correctly is key to having them when you want to eat them. 

Greens 

Remove the greens from the root, leaving an inch of stem on the root. Place the greens in a plastic bag with holes in it and place them in the refrigerator. Use the greens within a week of harvest. 

Roots 

The roots should be brushed free of dirt and either stored in a plastic bag with holes in it in the refrigerator or in a root cellar. Roots lose moisture quickly and should be stored in the refrigerator or a root cellar and used within two weeks. 

Seeds 

Seeds should be stored in a glass jar or paper envelope in a cool, dry, dark place. For the best results, use it within a year of harvest. Seeds will germinate for three years, although the germination rate will fall the older the seeds are. 

Other Turnip Notes 

Here are some tips to make sure you grow the best turnip greens and roots. 

  • Don’t plant turnips where you have grown other Brassica crops, such as broccoli and cabbage, for three years. 
  • When planting, space the seeds one to two inches apart on rows about eighteen inches apart. 
  • When the turnips are four inches high, thin to one plant every three to six inches. Eat the ones you pull up. 
  • Keep the soil around the turnips evenly moist. Drought stress makes turnips bitter and the roots woody. Turnips need an inch of water a week. An inexpensive moisture meter will really help you keep the soil moist. 
  • Do a soil test and fertilize according to the soil test recommendations before planting your turnip seeds. 
  • Turnips do not need fertilizing once they are planted. Too much nitrogen will make them grow lots of greens and very little root. 
  • Mulching around the turnips once the greens are four inches long will help control weeds and keep the soil moisture more even. Use a three-inch layer of straw or hardwood mulch. 
  • You can plant turnips every three weeks for a couple of months to have them available longer. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do you pick turnips so they keep growing? 

You can pick some of the greens off the turnip, and the root, and the remaining greens will continue growing. Once you pick the turnip root, it stops growing. 

Can I harvest turnip greens and the bulb? 

Yes, both the root and greens are good to eat. 

How long can turnips stay in the ground? 

Turnips mature after about 40-60 days. Leaving them in the ground longer will make the roots pithy and pungent tasting. If you leave the turnips in the ground during a freeze, the turnips will ruin. 

Can turnips get too big? 

Yes, when turnips get over three inches in size, they are not good to eat. 

In conclusion, turnip greens can be harvested once the leaves are about four inches tall. You can eat the greens raw when the greens are young or cook them after they are larger. To harvest during the season, cut the top third of the greens off every ten days or so. For the roots, harvest one to one-and-a-half-inch roots for baby turnips or when about two- and three-quarter inches for full-size turnips. Harvest your turnips before a hard frost. Seeds don’t form until the turnip overwinters but can be harvested when they dry on the flower stalk. 

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Stephanie Suesan Smith

Stephanie Suesan Smith has a Ph.D. in psychology that she mainly uses to train her dog. She has been a freelance writer since 1991. She has been writing for the web since 2010. Dr. Smith has been a master gardener since 2001 and writes extensively on gardening. She has advanced training in vegetables and entomology but learned to garden from her father.

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