Friday, April 5, 2013

A Turnip Turns up Unexpectedly

Turnip top

You might wonder what this miserable, half frozen plant is. Well, it is our best winter vegetable as it looks in still frozen soil emerging from a hard winter!

Foliage turnip, also known as turnip tops or turnip green, is a green vegetable associated with the south. I cannot remember anyone growing it in the two areas of Ontario where I have lived. Three years ago, I found seeds for it - at a dollar store of all places. With no best-before date on the package, the seed was likely old. But, at 25 cents a package and having never grown turnip tops before, I was curious to try it, and I got some seeds. The variety I got is called “Seven Tops” and it turns out to be an amazing vegetable for our cold climate.

I seeded them in the spring, and every single seed came up beautifully. However, the plant itself was disappointing. It is a brassica, but not a particularly distinguished one. The taste is OK but the foliage is not all that appealing, having a slightly prickly texture. For these reasons, we ended up eating very little of it, although I found out it has very high nutritional value (it is particularly high in vitamins A and C).

We might have liked it better had we started eating it when the leaves were still young and tender. In the fall, I did not get around to pull out the plants, and they spent the winter in the garden with no protection. Since it is associated with warm weather, I expected to find a soggy mess in early April when we came back from our peregrinations.

However I was wrong. Not only had the plants survived, but they were about to bloom and looked like thin broccoli/rapini. We found out that, at this stage, turnip tops are delicious. What we eat is not so much the foliage as the stems with flower buds (like broccoli). We ate them for a full month, and they were very good. They were particularly welcome at this time of the year when there is hardly anything edible in the garden. That was the winter of 2011-12 which was very mild.

 In the late summer of 2012, I planted several rows hoping to repeat the experience. The variety I got "Seven Tops" turned out to be an open variety (rather than an hybrid) which meant I could just save seeds from the previous crop and plant them to get the same vegetable. Despite having eaten as much as we could of the flowering stems as they came up, plenty of other stems appeared and eventually produced lots of seed.

The winter of 2012-2013 was much more severe with at least one melt followed by a cold snap when the plants were not protected at all (my minimum/maximum thermometer indicates it got down to -15°C inside the garden shed). I was very curious to see what I would find this year, hoping the turnips tops had survived this much harsher winter.

They did. They are not yet about to bloom as they were at this time last year, but they look quite healthy even if a little frost bitten as you can see on the picture above. Here is a photo from last year which shows the turnip tops about to bloom with the flowering stem which is the best part to eat.
Turnip top

So it would appear than in our climate the way to grow them is to seed them in the fall and eat the flowering stems when they start pushing up in the spring, just like you would eat broccoli or rapini. 


  1. That is quite a story! So, if I were to purchase it would I look for turnip seeds called Seven Tops?

  2. Hi Marlene,
    I suppose any variety of turnip top would do. Good luck with them!

  3. Love the stories you've attached to the plants! Someone sent me a link to this dandy blog and I am enthralled with what I've seen so far! Spring never looked so good this year (since I've seen your blog on the prairies we have a firm layer of snow o'er all!)
    I've never eaten turnip tops in my life and wouldn't want anyone to held their breath until I did. Turnip tops are yucky to me but I love young beet tops.


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