• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing turnips in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)


By Lori Adams


I have been growing turnips the last couple of years for the greens, but have never had any luck growing them for the bulbs.

This year I was able to actually harvest some large bulbs and they were really delicious. They taste like a cross between a kohlrabi and a radish. It turns out that they are relatively easy to grow, so from now on I am going to make more room in my garden for turnips.

To prep the bed for growing turnips be sure not over-fertilize with nitrogen. Turnips are a root crop and root crops like loose soil amended with organic material, sand, bonemeal and plenty of lime (seashell sand) to keep them from being bitter. Plant the seeds directly outside in the soil with about 4-inch spacing.

If you want a lot of tops you can plant the seeds closer, and then when they are big enough to eat you can simply thin the crop by pulling every other plant completely out of the ground. After planting the seeds be sure to cover the entire area with row cover. All of the local pests seem to like turnips and it is not uncommon to pull one and find it riddled with holes and bite marks. Row cover and crop rotation can really help minimize pest damage.

At harvest time most of the turnips bulbs will be pushing their tops up out of the soil, so you will be able to see how big they are. Pull them when they still tender — about 3 inches in diameter. If they get too large they can become quite woody and fibrous. You can eat them raw or cooked and it is not necessary to peel them. The greens are ready to eat at any time and you can pull the entire plants or clip off the leaves leaving the roots to grow more leaves for a later harvest.

One of the reasons I am enthused about growing more turnips next year is because they are ready to harvest so early in the season, when there are mostly just greens to eat and no poundage crops. I had always considered them a fall crop, so I was surprised to have them mature so early. It might even be possible to sow multiple plantings each season.

Although it sounds so easy to grow turnips it took a lot of years for me to be successful at it. I think the biggest mistakes I made in the past were planting them too close together and adding too much nitrogen. If there is one thing I’ve learned about gardening in Sitka it’s to never give up. Keep trying and eventually you will probably succeed.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241