Gardening: Turn to turnips for early vegetables

By Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

A couple of weeks ago I received a package from Burpee Seed (  containing two fresh white turnips and a package of seeds. What a great way to introduce a new vegetable! The promo literature described these bright white hybrid orbs called ‘Silky Sweet’ as a salad turnip to be eaten raw, just like an apple. They said the taste is moist, crisp and slightly sweet with a delightful hint of mustard.

Now, I’m a great fan of fresh vegetables, especially crunchy stuff I can eat in salads, use with dips or just snack on with a sprinkling of sea salt.  So, because it was about lunchtime, I washed those little guys up, sliced them thin (no peeling needed) and ate ’em fresh out of the box. And I loved them. In fact, I loved them so much I’m planning to grow them this spring.

You can get a jump start on growing turnips now.

The other good news is the young turnip greens I’ll be harvesting are also tasty, healthful and good for use in salads and cooked dishes, so what a deal, I get a two-fer.

Because turnip seedlings are tolerant of moderate frost they can be sown outside in very early spring. I plan to grow them in the large tomato pots on my porch and according to Burpee the full-size 2- to 3-inch fruit will be ready for harvest in 60 days. That’s just about the time I’ll be planting my tomatoes. Perfect timing.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( also carries salad turnips and their white variety ‘Hakurei’  is said to be sweet, without a bite and is best harvested when young – up to 2 inches in diameter .

 These are a quick turnaround vegetable, and if you harvest them at radish-size they may be ready to pick in as little as a month. Full size may take 40 to 50 days, depending on the weather.

Turnips are cool weather crops and will go to seed when the weather heats up.

The Whole Seed Catalog ( has seeds of heirloom Japanese turnips that are listed among the cultural vegetables of Japan. This 50-day white turnip planted in spring can be harvested all summer long. The crunchy, juicy roots are enjoyed fresh or pickled.

While waiting to plant my salad turnips I’ve adopted a mature turnip to see how many of those vitamin packed leaves he will produce. Expecting to add him to the vegetable soup I never got to this holiday he got restless sitting around and sprouting, so I named him Teddy and potted him up. We shall see.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at