Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Power of One Turnip Seed

One turnip seed, planted in rich soil, in a five gallon container, can grow to feed a family; if it is carefully nurtured. First, that little seed will send out tiny leaves. Those leaves will eventually grow large and plentiful enough that you won’t mind pinching a few to add to salads and soups. As summer fades into the cool part of the year, the plant will produce many leaves. Each leaf only lives a month or so. By watching them carefully and experimenting, you gradually learn when they are best for adding to salads (young and tender) and how long you can wait to use them as cooked greens. Your turnip plant will continue to produce leaves straight through winter and on into earliest parts of spring.  (This article was written in 2008, in California. Here in Pacific County, Washington, many veggies are prone to going dormant over the winter.  Be careful not to take too many leaves over the cold dark months.)

Turnip Greens

Once the days begin to grow longer, you will notice your turnip plant begin reaching upwards.  Tender and delicious buds will form, which can be snipped with a few tender leaves, and added to salads, stir fries, and soups. The more buds you snip, the more the plant will produce, so go ahead and snip as often as you like. When you tire of the buds, the plant will begin producing flowers, which are also edible. The flowers can be used to garnish bowls of soup or salad.

The flowers will be followed by tender turnip “beans.” The young edible seed pods are tasty, cooked or raw. They can even be pickled if you are feeling industrious. But be sure to let some of the seed pods mature. Because the seeds that will follow have even more promise, even more to give.

Mature seed pods are the color of straw, and the pop when squeezed, revealing a number of amber to nearly black, small, round seeds. Collect the stems with mature pods into a brown shopping bag and allow them to dry completely, away from irrigation and other moisture. Once dry, use your hands to crunch up the stems and pop the pods. Slowly remove each stem, popping any intact pods as you do. Then shake the bag to encourage the seeds to settle at the bottom.  You will have a mix of chaff from the seed pods and seeds in the bag. Reach into the bag with both hands, grab a handful of the chaff, and toss it back and forth to further encourage the seeds to fall. (The chaff and the stems make great additions to the compost pile or your garden’s layers of mulch.)

Turnip Seeds

When you get to the bottom of the bag you should have more turnip seeds than you really want to grow. Plant out a row or two, and save the rest of the seeds. You can pinch the young greens as you did with your single turnip, and you can also begin pulling tender young turnips in six to eight weeks. Turnips are excellent raw, roasted, mashed, fried, steamed, or boiled. Extra seeds can be shared with friends and family. (Or traded with other seed savers for seeds of other crops!)  They can also be grown and used just like alfalfa sprouts; and the dry seeds can be ground or used whole as a tangy mustard seed substitute.  

Turnips have been utilized as survival foods and as staples in many parts of the world when grain crops, trade, or transportation have been problematic. For fun, for variety, and for food security, consider planting a row of turnips in your garden this month. Don’t forget to save a seed to plant in a five gallon container, so you can demonstrate the power of one turnip seed.


Excerpted from:  Digging the Dirt / July in the Gardenfrom the article originally published in the Hoopa People Paper in 2008, Copyright Harvest McCampbell


I now live in Pacific County Washington, where I am currently the Growing Together Community Garden coordinator.  We are hand selecting mildew free turnips for seed saving!  

You can read a little about this effort on our Facebook page.   

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