underground brassicas

Turnips are easy to grow when planted in the right season and mature in just two months

They grow best in a temperate climate but can withstand light frost. You can sow them in spring or autumn, but autumn-sown crops are usually sweeter and more tender because of the available moisture and also pests are less of a problem.

Turnips need to be direct sown as they don’t like transplanting. Select a site that gets full sun. Soil should be well-draining and loosened to a depth of 30-50cm. Mix in 5-10cm layer of compost. Work the soil well. Create shallow trenches with a niwashi or hoe, or a handle end or simply your hand. Sow the seeds reasonably thickly as there’s no guarantee how well the seeds will strike. Cover them with a light sprinkling of soil and pack down gently but firmly with the head of a rake or your hand. Once seedlings are 10cm high, thin to about 10cm apart.

Small, white Japanese turnips, are our favourite as they’re milder and sweeter than other varieties.

« They’re a prized vegetable in many cuisines and often used in French and Japanese cooking.

Turnips are light feeders so can be grown near other vegetables. But they are a brassica which means they need to be sown in a bed that hasn’t had brassicas in it for the last two years, as they’re prone to club root

Keep weeds down and don’t let the bed dry out. You want to keep these vegetables growing fast and continuously and water is the secret. Constant moisture will produce a good, well-flavoured, tender crop, while lack of moisture will make the roots fibrous and strong-tasting and will force the plant to send up a seed stalk.

In mild-winter areas, they can be mulched and left in the garden for an extended harvest. But it’s often better to pull up the roots, cut off the tops (leaving about 10cms of stems) and store them in layers in containers of moist sand, sawdust or peat, or in heaps or ridges in the garden covered with a layer of soil and straw.

What’s great about turnips is they’re a starchy vegetable but provide only one third the amount of calories that an equal amount of potatoes do. Turnips provide an excellent source of vitamin C.