These European natives are cabbage relatives and, like cabbage, belong to the genus Brassica. Although turnips are best known in other parts of the country for their roots, in the South their leaves are also enjoyed as a green vegetable and some selections are grown for leaves only. Turnip roots come in various colors (white, white topped with purple, creamy yellow) and shapes (globe, flattened globe). Rutabaga is a tasty turnip relative with large yellowish roots; its leaves are palatable only when very young (they turn coarse as they mature). Turnip roots are quick growing and should be harvested and used as soon as big enough to eat; rutabaga is a late-maturing crop that stores well in the ground. Flavor of rutabaga improves with light frost. Roots of both turnip and rutabaga are milder flavored if soil is kept moist; they become more pungent under drier conditions.
For a quick crop of greens only, try 'Seven Top' (45 days). For both turnip greens and tasty roots, plant 'Purple-Top White Globe' (5060 days), 'Royal Crown' (4555 days), or 'White Lady' (3545 days). A widely recommended rutabaga is 'American Purple Top' (90 days).
Grow both in rich, loose, moist, well-drained soil. In the Upper and Middle South (USDA 6 and 7), plant in early spring for early summer harvest, or in summer for fall harvest. Elsewhere, plant in August to October for fall and winter crops. Feed with a liquid fertilizer after seedlings are up, then again monthly. Sow seeds 12 in. deep, 1 in. apart. Thin turnips to 26 in. apart if growing for roots, 14 in. apart for greens. Thin rutabagas to 58 in. apart; they need ample space for roots to reach full weight of 3 to 5 pounds. Turnip roots grow fast and should be harvested and used as soon as they are big enough to eat, usually 4070 days after sowing. Rutabaga roots are ready to harvest in 90 to 120 days; they store well in the ground, and flavor improves with light frost. Cabbage root maggot is a pest of turnip (it is less likely to infest rutabaga); see Cabbage for control.