Food for Thought – 2

The Jardins du bassin Louise have been installed on a heat island. We built wooden bins directly on a concrete slab which, believe me, reflects a lot of heat on hot summer days. Also, we enjoy full sun, which also helps warm the place up quickly. Vegetable plants benefit greatly from these special conditions. However, I will not hide from you that it is sometimes difficult to work on certain very hot summer afternoons. Hat, sunscreen and water are essential! That being said, one of the benefits of this great exposure is that the snow quickly melts in the spring. We rediscover our containers hastily and immediately look forward to cultivating them again.

The Jardins du Bassin Louise during winter time
Credit : Les Urbainculteurs

If you garden from time to time, you already know that not all vegetable plants will appreciate being sown or planted as soon as the snow melts. Some hate the cold (they can even die from it!), some will tolerate it but not enjoy it, while others prefer to grow in cool conditions altogether. My suggestion today is ideal for the beginning of the season. It’s perfect for meeting our spring gardening needs in addition to providing an early harvest. I present to you today the turnip!

A Root Vegetable to Try

Turnip is actually a small, firm root from the Brassicaceae family. It’s harvested when it has a diameter between 2 and 3 inches. Its flesh is white and I would even say that it has a creamy texture. What I like about turnip is that it’s often mistaken for a white radish, but in fact it tastes quite different. People are often surprised when they bite into a freshly picked turnip for the first time. It doesn’t have the spicyness that sometimes displeases, it’s rather sweet. Also, unlike its cousin the rutabaga, turnip has not yet developed the bitterness that is often associated with this vegetable. In summary, it’s delicious. So why not try it?

Freshly harvested turnips
Credit : Les Urbainculteurs

The turnip was definitely a big favorite at the urban farm. It’s harvested and bunched really easily. A little splash of water and presto, it’s ready. In 2022, we cultivated four generations. For 2023, I almost doubled the production by integrating two different varieties. See how excited we are about this pretty vegetable?

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, turnip is one of the vegetables that prefers to grow in cool weather. For this reason, I suggest you grow it in the spring and then in late summer for a fall harvest. Depending on your location, this can of course change. In Quebec City, we sow it every two weeks from the end of April to the end of May, then every two weeks from mid-July to the beginning of August. That quite a lot of turnips!

Purple top white globe turnips
Credits : Les Jardins de l’Écoumène

Perfect for Small Spaces

If your growing area is limited, a vegetable like the turnip is a great way to maximize your production space. You can, for example, cultivate it early in the season where your tomatoes or eggplants will be (plants that must be transplanted after all risk of frost). Conversely, at the end of the season, it can fill the space of a vegetable that has been harvested. If you garden on a balcony, it can be sown in planters or shallow pots, since its rooting is superficial.

We sow it directly in the garden, spaced 2 inches apart on the row and spacing each row 8 inches apart. The seeds are quite small. Despite great attention on your part, you may have to thin out your turnips when they emerge from the ground. Carefully remove a few plants to achieve the desired density in the row. If you want to have slightly larger turnips, you can reduce your seeding rate. But be careful, a turnip harvested late will become fibrous!

Watch out for bugs

Turnips require little maintenance and fertilization. On the other hand, it has two formidable crop enemies: the flea beetle and the cabbage root maggot. For this reason, always cover your seedling with a net and open it only when necessary. Make sure that it is well fixed and that the possibilities of opening are zero (or almost!). If you have the possibility, it’s preferable to make each sowing in a different place in order to give you a little head start on these enemies.

Some nets at the urban farm
Credit : Les Urbainculteurs

In the Kitchen

In my opinion, turnip is at its best when it’s just been harvested, you don’t even need to peel it. More often than not I eat it fresh, or with a little fleur de sel. It’s very popular grilled in the pan in quarters with a fatty substance, then salt and pepper. Cooked this way, its sweet taste is really enhanced, a delight! You can also incorporate turnip into a mash or soup. Do not discard its foliage, it can be eaten in a salad or grilled in the pan.

The most common varieties are white or with a purple collar. I’ve seen white-fleshed red turnips before, while leafing through seed catalogs, but unfortunately I’ve never grown them yet. Maybe you’ll get the chance?

See you next month for my last winter suggestion.

Marie-Andrée is the urban farm manager and a trainer at Urbainculteurs, where she has been working since 2015. She plans and supervises the production of Jardins du bassin Louise, an urban vegetable farm with a social and educational vocation. Outstanding at teaching, she also co-hosts the podcast Mâche-patate and is one of the main trainers of the Urbainculteurs online training course. Les Urbainculteurs is a non-profit organization, based in Quebec since 2009. Their mission: to develop and promote a productive, accessible and responsible urban agriculture for the benefit of organizations and individuals, in order to increase food security, improve our living environments and promote an ecological transition.

1 comment on “Food for Thought – 2

  1. I have tasted the white ones. They are very fresh and tasty, I feel motivated to plant some in the spring!

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