How to Grow Turnips in a Square Foot Garden

Turnips are nutritious and can add texture and flavor to a wide range of dishes. Growing turnips is easier than you think, especially if you use the square foot gardening method.

Read on to learn more about growing turnips and why these vegetables are ideal for square foot gardening.

Square foot gardening is a method that allows you to grow vegetables or other plants in a limited space.

A square-foot garden is a highly-organized area with small squares of equal size. Typically, you would plant a different vegetable in each square.

This idea has been around since the 1980s, but it’s currently seeing a resurgence as more people grow their own food to ward off the high cost of living.

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About Turnips

Turnips are a popular vegetable for square-foot gardens since they’re relatively low-maintenance vegetables.

They’re hardy vegetables that can adapt to a wide range of environments.

While nutritional value can vary from one variety to another, turnips are usually rich in calcium, folate, magnesium, and Vitamin C.

Their sugar content adds a sweet taste to recipes like soups, slow cooker dishes, or salads. You can also spruce up dinner with some pan-fried or roasted turnips as a side.

And with over 30 different types of turnips, it should be easy to find one that suits your taste and that grows well in your USDA zone.

Does Square Foot Gardening Make Sense for Turnips?

Turnips are a staple of square gardens for several reasons:

  • These hardy vegetables can thrive in a wide range of conditions and require little attention. They can even survive cold temperatures.
  • Square foot gardens are all about maximizing yield for the space you have. Turnips provide you with plenty of food since you can eat the roots and the greens.
  • Turnips grow to two to three inches in size. You can fit several turnip plants per square foot to maximize yield.
  • Turnips can absorb nitrogen and leach it into the soil. They can help establish a healthy nitrogen cycle for your square foot garden, an important factor for increasing yield.

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Choosing the Best Soil for Growing Turnips

As long as you use the right soil, turnips will require very little care. To maximize yield and grow food with minimum effort, the first thing to do is choose the right type of soil for your square-foot garden.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Ideally, turnips need mildly acidic soil. The pH should be somewhere between 6 and 6.5.
  • Because turnips are edible roots, they need good drainage. Water that pools around the turnip will cause the edible root to rot.
  • Fertilizer will help create ideal conditions for growing turnips.

Before planting your square-foot garden, you should test the soil. If you get a pH of more than 6.5, you can introduce organic matter or sulfur to lower it.

Lime is the best way to increase your soil pH.

If you’re working with heavy soil that doesn’t have good drainage, introduce some sand, loam, or gypsum.

Setting Up Your Square Foot Garden

Square foot gardening is a versatile method. You would typically use 2×4” or 2×6” to build raised garden beds as well as a lattice with square compartments.

Creating a lattice with boards isn’t necessary. You can use tent pins with some string to create visual limits between the squares if you want to save time.

You can also skip the raised beds and set up a square foot garden in an area of your yard if you have good soil. You can delimitate the square compartments with boards or small stones.

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If you decide not to use raised beds, you might want to protect the area where you’ll grow food with some chicken wire to keep wildlife away.

If you opt for raised beds, you should dig at least 12” into the ground and use two 2×6” boards to create a raised height of 11” or so.

Getting as close to 20” of depth as possible will increase drainage.

Depending on how tall your beds are, you might want to use aluminum bars to reinforce the boards.

You should also keep in mind that working with raised beds can cause the soil temperature to go up faster in the spring and summer, a factor that can cause turnips to go to seed.

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Turnip Varieties

There are over 30 different varieties of turnips. They differ in taste and appearance, and you might find that some varieties do better than others in your USDA zone.

The following table will help you compare turnip varieties. Keep in mind that square-foot gardening allows you to combine different varieties easily.

Turnip varietyProperties
Purple-top turnipPopular varietyEasy to storeHarvest in 40 to 55 days
Scarlet queen turnipCrisp white fleshFresh and sweet flavorCan harvest early for small turnips
Tokyo cross turnipSlow boltDoes well in cold weather2” globe sizeHarvest in 35 days
Gold ball turnipHarvest in 50 to 65 days3 to 4” globe sizeSmooth flavor
Royal crown turnipMild and sweet flavor4” globe sizeHarvest in 50 days
White egg turnip3 to 4” globe sizeExcellent yieldHigh water contentDoes well in the sun
White lady turnipHardy varietyDoes well in cool weather2 to 3” globe size
Snowball turnipHarvest in 40 to 55 days2 to 3” globe sizeDoes well in temperate climates
Baby bunch turnipSweet and creamy taste1 to 2” globe size, about 16 turnips per bunchNot good for storing

Turnips and USDA Zones

Your USDA zone is an important consideration when using square-foot gardening for turnips or other vegetables.

Your zone will determine when you should plant turnips and when you can harvest.

There are 13 zones in the U.S., with zones 3 to 10 in the continental U.S. excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

Temperatures in these states and territories are too extreme for turnips.

This table will give you a better idea of which USDA zone you’re in and what it means for growing turnips.

ZoneAreaHow to grow turnips
Zone 3Some areas in Montana, North Dakota, and MinnesotaTurnips are a good spring harvest in Zone 3. Choose a hardy variety. Use burlap to protect your vegetables from frost.  
Zone 4Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, South Dakota, and Wyoming.Turnips will do well in Zone 4. You can plant in April, July, or August.  
Zone 5Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and Idaho.Plant in March through May for a spring harvest. You can also grow turnips in the fall if you seed between late August and October.
Zone 6Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, and Nevada.It’s best to plant turnips in May, July, or August for Zone 6.
Zone 7Some areas in Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Tennessee.You can plant turnips as early as January in Zone 7. February and March are ideal for an early spring harvest. You can also plant in August and September for a fall harvest. Provide plenty of shade.
Zone 8Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, VirginiaPlant between January and March. You can plant turnips again in August or September.  
Zone 9Coastal regions in Washington and Oregon, California, South Texas, South Louisiana, and North Florida.You can grow turnips year-round in Zone 9 except during the hot summer months. Keep your raised beds close to the ground to lower the soil temperature.  
Zone 10Some counties in Southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Growing turnips in Zone 10 are difficult due to the high temperatures. Consider growing turnips in pots in a cool indoor area instead of growing them outdoors.  

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Planting Turnips

You should have a better idea of the variety of turnips you want to grow and when you should plant them based on your USDA zone.

Here are a few tips to help you get started with square gardening for turnips:

  • Turnips don’t do well if you transplant them. It’s best to plant seeds directly in your garden.
  • You can plant up to nine turnips per square foot.
  • Prepare the soil by loosening it up to a depth of 12.”
  • You can add some manure or compost to the soil.
  • Plant seeds ¼” to ½” deep into the ground.
  • Water regularly, but don’t add more than one inch of water per week.

Thinning is a common practice when planting turnips. Instead of counting nine seeds per square foot, you can plant more and remove seedlings.

This method improves your chances of getting at least nine plants per square foot since not all seeds will sprout.

How to Care for Turnips

Square foot gardening with turnips is easy since these vegetables require very little care:

  • Make sure you keep the soil moist without overwatering. Watering once or twice a week should be sufficient.
  • Adding mulch as needed can help retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing. Remove weeds as needed, even though it shouldn’t be much of an issue with square-foot gardening.
  • Keep an eye on the weather and harvest your turnips before temperatures reach 80°F. High temperatures can cause bolting, which means your turnips will go to seed without producing edible roots.

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Common Issues and Illnesses

Turnips are hardy vegetables, but there are a few issues and illnesses you should know about.

It’s important to remove diseased plants quickly since some conditions can spread throughout your square-foot garden.

Here are some of the most common diseases that affect turnips:

  • White mold will cause white or gray lesions to appear at the base of the plant before spreading to the leaves. High humidity levels make white mold more likely to develop.
  • The fungus can cause leaf spots to appear on turnip greens. Varieties like Alternaria leaf spot and Cercospora leaf spot are common in turnips. It’s best to remove affected plants to stop the fungal infection from spreading.
  • Turnips can attract a number of garden pests, including aphids, flea beetles, root maggots, and more. Using raised beds should protect your plants from pests, and mulch can be a deterrent.

Which Vegetables Can You Grow Next to Turnips?

One of the advantages of a square-foot garden is that you can plant a variety of vegetables.

If you’re growing turnips, you can grow beans, onions, tomatoes, celery, radishes, cauliflower, and more.

However, it’s best to avoid planting potatoes next to your turnips. Potatoes also grow edible roots, and your potato plants might end up competing with the turnips for space and nutrients.

Grow Turnips in a Square-Foot Garden
Grow Turnips in a Square-Foot Garden

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Turnips make a great addition to any square-foot garden. These vegetables are easy to care for and require little maintenance as long as you can provide mildly acidic soil with enough moisture.

Before you get started, find out more about different turnip varieties to determine which one will thrive in your USDA zone!