Turnips are antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense. Besides being an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber, turnips also contain a type of phytonutrient known as indoles, which may help you fight cancer — particularly colon cancer. For these and many other reasons, you may enjoy growing turnips. Below, I share everything you need to know to cultivate this hearty, healthy root vegetable.

The Basics About Turnips

Turnips (Brassica rapa) are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, making them close cousins of kohlrabi and rutabagas. They are biennials grown as annuals and may go to seed in their first year if planted in early spring. Mature turnips reach a height of about 12 to 18 inches and a width of about 6 to 8 inches.

Turnips are native in the wild in western Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate regions of Asia1 and now are grown widely in temperate climates worldwide.2 The Greeks and Romans used turnips and Pliny the Elder considered them to be one of the most important vegetables of his time.3 Once cultivated mainly as livestock forage, turnips have been part of human diets in Europe and the U.S. for hundreds of years.4 The Spruce says turnips:5

Feature bulbs that are either white or yellow, whereas the portion of the bulb exposed to sunlight above ground level changes color to either green or purple

Produce mustard-like leafy green tops that are slightly hairy and have toothed edges

Possess small, yellow flowers whose petals form the shape of a cross; this is true of all cruciferous vegetables, hence the name

Growing Turnips in Five Easy Steps

Turnips do well when planted early in the spring for a summer crop. If you want to store them for use during the winter, it’s best to plant them late in the summer and harvest them before the first frost. For fall crops, plant your seeds about 70 days before the first frost date in your area. Mulching your turnips will help prevent them from freezing, and the cold weather helps sweeten their flavor. Below are recommendations from gardening experts on the considerations you must entertain to ensure a healthy crop of turnips:6,7,8

Seeds: As a root vegetable, turnips are best planted from seed at a depth of about one-fourth to one-half inch. Use your finger or a trowel to create a small trench and scatter about three to 20 seeds per foot. Space rows 12 to 24 inches apart. For a continuous harvest, plant additional seeds every 10 days throughout the growing season.

Soil: Turnips prefer a slightly acidic soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Rich, well-draining soil will ensure your bulbs grow quickly and do not rot. Because turnips mature quickly, you won’t need to fertilize your plants. The soil must be at least 40 degrees F for germination, which generally takes between seven and 14 days.

Sun: If you are interested in eating both the turnip and turnip greens, you should choose a planting location that gets full sun. Turnips will tolerate partial shade, too.

Thinning: Once your turnips are 3 to 4 inches tall, you can thin them to 2 to 4 inches apart to give the roots plenty of room to grow. If desired, you can eat the thinned-out plants as greens.

Water: Water your turnip seeds immediately after planting to encourage germination. Provide at least an inch of water per week to promote strong root development and quick growth.