Purple Top Turnips

Varieties of turnips with white roots topped with purple are among the most popular of all, and are easy to grow in small spaces in home gardens.
Purple Top Milan Turnip is Italian Heirloom

Purple Top Milan Turnip is Italian Heirloom

Photo by: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Vegetable Gardening , 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Botanical Names: Brassica rapa

The turnip (Brassica rapa) is grown world-wide for its tasty, swollen lower stem and nutritious leaves. It is easy to grow during cool weather in many soils and matures very quickly from seed to table.

Some gardeners grow varieties developed specifically for their tender, slightly hairy leaves, called turnip greens, which loaded with vitamins A, B, C, and K, folate, iron, calcium, and thiamine. The young ones can be eaten raw, while older leaves are cooked like spinach or kale.

The bulbous turnip roots, which are roundish or conical and grow partly in the soil, are somewhat pungent and bitter when mature, but are low-calorie and very high in fiber, Vitamins A and C, and the same cancer-fighting compounds found in broccoli and cabbage. They can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, or mashed, and are often combined with other root crops in stews.  

Turnips are also highly valued as livestock feed, and can be left in fields to be grazed even under snow in the winter. Because of this, they are also planted by hunters, because the best flavors preferred by deer develop after cool weather – just in time for hunting season.

Purple Turnips

Most turnip roots are typically white both inside and out, though some can have red or yellow skin and yellow, red, or streaked flesh when mature. However, the most popular varieties have white roots which turn purple around the tops where the sun shines on them. There are many good selections, but the standard variety, named Purple Top White Globe, has smooth roots that are nearly round, and creamy white with bright purple shoulders. It can easily get the size of aman’s fist, but is much milder and sweeter when picked at only two or three inches in diameters. 

Other great purple top turnips are Royal Crown and Royal Globe, which are modern hybrids, as opposed to the open-pollinated heirloom Purple Top White Globe.

How to Grow Purple Top Turnips

Purple turnips grow best in cool weather, and get hard and bitter when exposed to hot temperatures. So most gardeners plant them in late spring when soils reach 50F or more; because they will tolerate frost and light freezes, in areas with long growing seasons turnips can be planted again in late summer and fall.

They grow best in full sun and well-drained, moderately-fertile soils. Sow seed thinly across the soil, rake and tamp gently to cover seeds no more than about a quarter of an inch, and water lightly to get seeds starting to germinate. In warm soils seeds should come up within two weeks.

As the plants grow they need extra room, so thin them until the remaining plants are three or four inches or more apart. Small thinned plants can be cooked and eaten.

Harvest turnips greens as they grow, starting when they are small and leaving a few to develop larger roots. They will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, but for longer storage, store in a cool, dark, damp place.

Next Up

Turnip Plants

Turnips have a rich history and interesting health benefits, and can be grown easily in spring or fall home gardens.

Turnip Seeds

Sowing and saving tiny turnip seeds is fun, easy, and helps you grow some of the most interesting heirloom varieties for planting year after year.

Growing Turnip Greens

In many cultures, including the Southeast US, turnips are grown as much for their tasty, highly nutritious leaves, called “greens” as for their roots. Here are a few tips to get the most out of turnip greens.

Types of Turnips

Turnip varieties go way beyond the standard old Purple Top and white Tokyo Cross, to include surprising range of sizes, shapes, colors, flavors of both roots and leafy greens, and time they take from seed to table.

Growing Yellow Turnips

Turnips with yellow flesh are neither hard to find nor hard to grow, though the much more common cousins are very similar in taste and texture.

Growing White Turnips

Turnips with white roots are both easy to grow and valued for their tenderness and sweetness, with some compared with apples for their lack of classic turnip tanginess.

Growing Turnips

For thousands of years, colorful turnips and their leaves have been an easy-to-grow staple cool-weather vegetable with few pests or problems.

When to Harvest Turnips

Turnips can be pulled and eaten any time after they start growing really well but are completely mature and ready to harvest within six or eight weeks of planting. They can be stored for weeks or even months if harvested correctly.

When to Plant Turnips

Turnips are cool-weather plants that can be sown in late winter, spring, or late summer to give them the two months they need to mature before it gets too hot or freezes.

How to Store Turnips

While turnip greens should be consumed within a few days of harvest, turnip roots can be stored for days, weeks, or even months with the right harvesting and preparation.

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