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How to sow and cultivate organic turnip greens

Growing turnip greens in a healthy and organic way, avoiding diseases. The right tips for sowing and other little secrets.

by BioGrow

Turnip greens are among the ideal vegetables if you are considering sowing your autumn garden. However, there are many details to consider before deciding to sow this plant. To create the right conditions for growth, it is essential to plan your home garden early.
This leafy vegetable is historically widespread and known in central-southern Italy, so we will focus on this region for the varieties. Nevertheless, thanks to the contamination of gastronomic traditions, it is gaining ground in other countries’ cultivations and dietary habits as well.

When well-cultivated, this plant can be very rewarding. In this article, we will see how to sow and grow turnip greens properly.

Properties and characteristics of turnip greens

Classification and origin

simple dish of turnip greens

Simple dish

Turnip greens, also known as “turnip broccoli” belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It has a rather long botanical name: Brassica rapa, subspecies sylvestris varietà esculenta.
The species’ origin is Mediterranean, and the southern Italian regions have been cultivating it for centuries. Therefore, it is a plant that is deeply rooted in our peasant and gastronomic tradition.
The turnip greens cultivar prefers a mild climate for its cultivation. At the same time, it is very resistant, which means that, with proper care, it can also be grown in northern regions, where cultivation has been increasing in recent years.

Nutritional values of turnip greens

Sowing and cultivation of turnip greens

Close-up of broccolini

Both the leaves and the closed inflorescences (the broccoletti) are consumed. It has nutritional values that make it an ideal food for low-calorie diets: only 22 kcal per 100 gr. It is also a vegetable rich in minerals and vitamins. In 100 gr of leaves and broccoletti, you can find: 1.5 mg of iron, 97 mg of calcium, 69 mg of phosphorus, 225 µg of vitamin A, and 110 mg of vitamin C.
Another peculiarity is the high content of polyphenols, natural antioxidants present in some plant families like Brassicaceae.
Another characteristic that makes turnip greens unmistakable is its bitter taste. This gives a strong flavor and a penetrating aroma to all the different preparations that can be made with it.

Varieties

Sowing and cultivating turnips - turnips in bloom

Turnips in bloom

There are several varieties of turnip greens, all closely linked to the cultivation area. In the southern regions, for example, moving from one place to another, you can find native varieties. Many are well-known, such as “rape pugliesi”, including “rapa grossa di Fasano”, “rapa leccese” and “rape murgesi”.
In Campania, the variety “rapa friariello napoletano” is very famous. In Calabria, “rapa bisignanese” is well-known and appreciated.
Depending on the variety, the plants will have different characteristics. Some will be rich in leaves with a large inflorescence in the center, like the “rapa leccese” in the photo above. Once cut, it will produce many lateral shoots. Other varieties, on the contrary, will produce many broccoletti with few leaves, like the “friariello napoletano” in the photo below.Friarielli
Another classification of turnip greens, more related to commercial purposes but essential for those approaching cultivation for the first time, is based on the flowering time.
Thus, we have “early turnip greens” which are more suitable for cultivation in areas with colder winters or for delayed sowing. Medium-late varieties are suitable for cultivation in areas with milder climates. Spring varieties mature late after winter rest.
According to this classification, we have: “Quarantina” (Forty-day variety), “Sessantina” (Sixty-day variety), “Novantina” (Ninety-day variety), “Centoventina” (One hundred and twenty-day variety), “Marzatica” or “Aprilatica” (March or April variety).

Sowing time

The sowing time for turnip greens depends on the variety and the climate of your region. In general, it is a cool-season crop and can tolerate light frosts, making it suitable for autumn and winter cultivation in most areas.
For early varieties, you can start sowing from late summer to early autumn (August to September). Medium-late varieties can be sown from early to mid-autumn (September to October), while spring varieties are sown in late winter (February to March).

Sowing method

Turnip greens can be sown directly into the ground or in seedling trays for later transplantation. If you have a short growing season or live in a colder region, starting seeds indoors in seedling trays a few weeks before the last expected frost can be beneficial. Transplant the seedlings when they have developed their first true leaves.
When sowing directly in the ground, prepare a well-draining and fertile soil bed. Broadcast the seeds evenly and cover them with a thin layer of soil. Space the seeds about 1 to 2 inches apart and cover with a fine layer of soil.

Spacing

Once the seedlings have grown a few inches tall, thin them to ensure adequate spacing. The ideal spacing for turnip greens plants is around 6 to 8 inches apart. Proper spacing allows the plants to develop fully and ensures good air circulation, reducing the risk of diseases.

Watering

Turnip greens requires consistent moisture throughout its growth cycle. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Water the plants deeply and regularly, especially during dry spells or when the weather is particularly hot.

Sunlight

Turnip greens thrives in full sun to partial shade. Aim to provide the plants with at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day for optimal growth and development.

Soil

The ideal soil for turnip greens is fertile, well-draining, and slightly acidic to neutral in pH. Before planting, work compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve its nutrient content and structure.

Harvesting turnip greens

You can start harvesting turnip greens when the leaves and broccoletti (small flower buds) are of desirable size. This typically occurs 40 to 60 days after sowing, depending on the variety. Harvesting is usually done by cutting the main stem just above the soil level, allowing the plant to produce side shoots for additional harvests.

Pests and diseases

Turnip greens is generally a hardy plant, but like any vegetable, it can be susceptible to pests and diseases. Common pests include aphids, caterpillars, and flea beetles. Regularly inspect the plants for any signs of infestation and take appropriate measures such as handpicking or using organic insecticides if needed.
For diseases, keep an eye out for issues like clubroot and downy mildew. Crop rotation, proper spacing, and ensuring good air circulation can help prevent disease problems.

Further Reading

  • Turnip greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt, 1 cup from University of Rochester Medical Center: This resource provides nutritional facts for cooked turnip greens. It mentions that turnip greens are a good source of protein and dietary fiber.
  • Turnip and turnip greens – FoodLink from Purdue Extension: This resource provides information about turnip and turnip greens, including their nutritional content. It mentions that turnip greens are usually sold separately from the roots.
  • Eat Greens for Your Health from University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: This resource discusses the health benefits of eating greens, including turnip greens. It mentions that one half cup of cooked greens contains only 18 calories and only 26 milligrams of sodium.
  • Turnips from University of Massachusetts Amherst: This resource provides information about turnips, including their nutritional content. It mentions that the leafy greens provide folate, manganese, calcium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K.
  • Preparing Turnips from University of Illinois Extension: This resource provides information on how to prepare turnips and their nutritional facts.

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