The mostly cool and moist summer enabled my turnips to grow bigger than softballs this year.  They would fill our basement storage area if I harvest and store all that I planted.  Marilyn would have a fit.  

She says “I’m not eating them.”  I and a couple other folks with whom I’ve shared the turnips have been relishing them all summer long.

Served with cream cheese and a little salt and pepper melted into them after they are fully cooked and peeled. Yum!

Readers may remember that a while back I asked for advice about how to prepare rutabagas without having to apologize.  Most of the advice I received also applies to turnips.  It takes courage to approach them.

I usually have to cook turnips or rutabagas when Marilyn is gone for a while, like when she is looking after our grandchildren in Utah for a few days.  Turnips stink up the house, but not as badly as rutabagas.

Sorry all you rutabaga fans!  I don’t consider eating either “brassica” as a problem myself, because they make me feel well and tough.  Football coaches should mandate turnip consumption for their teams.   

Animals like turnips too.  I have to fence my turnip patch so rabbits don’t eat the greens and deer don’t pull them up to consume the entire plant.

Turnips make a great cover crop after grains, like barley, wheat and rye, are harvested.  They also grow well in corn and soybeans if they are sowed in the early fall and have enough moisture and warm temperatures to get a good start.

I noticed airplanes and helicopters seeding cover crops into some standing corn and soybean fields in my area, beginning around September 10th. Farmers in the northern states can plant any of the following cover crops:

  • Annual rye, winter wheat or oats for forage, weed suppression and erosion control
  • Red clover, partridge peas or hairy vetch to fix nitrogen in the soil, as well as for forage and erosion control
  • Brassicas such as turnips or radishes for forage, erosion control and to break up compacted soil because they have long taproots
  • All these are savored by wildlife as well as livestock  

The Midwest Cover Crops Council has a useful website to aid in the selection of cover crops for the Midwest: www.mccc.msu.edu.  Another way to obtain useful information is to conduct an online search that includes the words “cover crops” along with your state and county.  Cover crops are available for all parts of the country and outside the U.S. borders.

Turnips thrive in cold weather and will continue to grow until the ground and the plant are frozen solid.  They take about 50 days after germination to grow to consumption size.  They’re biennials and will resume growing when the soil thaws, and sometimes even when the ground seems frozen, as long as there is sufficient sunlight.  

They also can withstand drought well too, once they get started, for they develop extensive feeder roots off the bulb as well as a deep taproot.

Turnips are high in omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin C, and trace minerals.  Like other brassicas, they are known for their cancer-retardant properties.

Cattle, pigs, sheep and farm fowl like chickens and geese eat them zestfully.  I’ve seen cattle with noses black with dirt heartily chewing turnips as they pulled them from the ground in the fall and again whenever the ground thawed enough for them to extract the turnips from half-frozen earth.  

Turnips flourished during the most recent great glacial era in Europe and Asia as the ice receded across the northern halves of these continents some 100-200 centuries ago.  The predecessors to modern-day cattle, the aurochs, as well as huge elk, mammoth and bison herds, bears and wolves, and the human inhabitants that followed these migrating animals, feasted on turnips as well as the animals the human hunter/scavengers procured.  

Some historians of the Roman Empire say the Roman Army depended on turnips and meat for sustenance and attributed their prowess in war to the vegetable, for turnips usually were readily available and eating them was considered manly.  The earliest settlers from Northern Europe brought turnips to the Western Hemisphere.

Turnips are a metaphor for what it might take during the next couple years of farming in the U.S. and Canada.  Turnips have survival capacity.  Midwestern farmers who produce mainly grain will have to toughen up as grain prices recede.  

With much of the food-producing parts of North America either too dry or too wet, we need to look for cheap ways to produce livestock food, green manure for fertilizer and willpower to survive.  Studies show they do not hamper yields of other main crops.

Look at it this way, even if you don’t have livestock to consume the cover crops, they will improve the soil, wildlife production and hunting and you can always eat them yourself if necessary.

Michael Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa clinical psychologist (and fly-fisherman) who lives on the farm he shares with his wife.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.