Growing Arugula and Turnips for the Table

Try these cultivation tips for growing arugula and salad turnips, and then feast on these brassica crops with arugula recipes and ways of cooking turnips.

| December 2015/January 2016

Cooking from the garden brings so much pleasure that it’s a shame to give it up when winter comes. Luckily, folks in mild climates don’t have to, and now even Northern gardeners can put homegrown produce on the table 12 months of the year.

In part, that’s thanks to season-extending structures, such as cold frames, plastic-covered hoop tunnels and simple greenhouses. But year-round harvests are also a matter of choosing the right crops — ones that prefer winter’s bite to summer’s heat. Doing so means you’ll use lots of fresh greens and roots — not just from the root cellar, but pulled right out of the ground.

Two brassica crops that are strikingly superior when grown at lower temperatures are turnips and arugula, which also pair well in the kitchen.

Tune In to Salad Turnips

When you think of turnips, you likely imagine the earthy storage kinds, such as the standard purple-top types and the strong-flavored rutabagas (sometimes called “yellow turnips”). If these are the only turnips you know, you’re missing out.

Round, white Japanese salad turnips are so mild and sweet when grown in cool months that it’s hard to believe they’re turnips at all. Two of the more
popular varieties are the open-pollinated ‘Shogoin’ and the hybrid ‘Tokyo Cross.’ Although both can grow quite large and still be good for cooking, they’re delectable when harvested at golf-ball size. Another satisfying open-pollinated variety is ‘Tokyo Market.’ My favorite is the hybrid ‘Hakurei,’ a snowy white turnip. It’s so sweet and crisp when picked small that you can eat it raw.

Turnips are a perfect quick spring crop, picked before age and heat turn them woody. Prepare a fertile soil rich in organic matter, and then, as soon as the ground can be worked, sow turnip seed directly in the garden in rows 12 inches apart. Cover the bed with floating row cover at planting time to protect the foliage from flea beetles and the roots from root maggots. Voles also love to gorge on the sweet roots, so you may need to trap them. After the plants are about 4 inches tall, thin them to 3 inches apart, and then toss the thinnings into the next salad you make. From September onward, sow fast-growing turnips in succession for a steady supply. Both roots and greens will be ready to enjoy in as soon as a month after planting. They can handle light frosts, but will need protection against a hard freeze.

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