These round root veggies were once the mainstay of every veg plot, and while they may not be as widely grown today as they once were, they still feature in most of the major seed catalogs. And rightly so; being easy to grow and nutritious they deserve their place in our gardens.
Turnips are the least hardy of the two and make a great fast-growing summer crop, ideal for the open garden or pots alike. From sowing to harvest can take as little as six to 12 weeks and they are at their best when harvested as baby roots or at golf ball size when they are still tender and can be cooked or eaten raw grated in salads and slaws.
The bone-hardy and majestic swede is a much larger beast and ideal for winter storage in preparation for adding to all those warming winter soups, curries, and stews.
Care for both is quite similar and they are relatively trouble free, although being part of the cabbage (brassica) family, they do share some of the same problems such as clubroot and caterpillars and, in the early stages, flea beetles.
SITE AND SOIL
Swedes and turnips like a site in full sun or at least to have sun for most of the day. They love a fertile, moisture-retentive soil too, so dig in plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure in the autumn prior to planting – or you can leave it on the surface for the worms to incorporate. However, before you do that a simple pH test (available to purchase from your local garden center) will tell you if any lime is required. Being brassicas both crops like to grow within the range of pH6-7 and the kit will tell you how much lime to add (if any) to bring the levels within that range.
Rake in 56g (2oz) per sq yd of general fertilizer a week before sowing or planting and firm the soil prior to introducing your crop.
Turnips are sown from March to June and because they are fast-growing can be sown in succession every few weeks to give an extended harvest of sweet, young roots from June to October.
Swedes are best sown in May and June and being slower to develop their large, heavy roots may take up to 24 weeks to mature from sowing, but of course, you can start harvesting smaller roots that have been thinned from the row sooner than that.
You have two options when sowing either crop – sow direct into the soil or sow into cell trays for planting out later. I prefer the latter since it allows me to protect the young plants from pests such as slugs and flea beetles, both of which are particularly fond of the young leaves.
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