Saving Turnip Seed

As I was getting a post together on some turnips Emily grew this summer, I started looking at photos from a 2009 turnip seed crop. So today, we’ll look at how to save seed turnip seed and

  • Clear up all that confusion about turnips and rutabagas
  • Explain how turnips need to be overwintered
  • And show how turnips go to seed.

Turnips And Rutabagas

Most people call rutabagas turnips. Turnips and rutabagas are actually two separate vegetables.

Rutabaga on the left, turnip on the right.

Turnips are white fleshed, usually  2-4″ wide, and tender enough to eat raw (they can  also be cooked).  They are from the Brassica rapa species and easily cross with the other members of that species: chinese cabbage, rapini, mizuna, tatsoi, and a number of leafy greens.

Rutabagas are yellow fleshed, 4-8″ wide, and eaten cooked. They are from the  Brassica napus species and won’t cross with turnips. Rutabagas are also known as swedes.

That being said, saving rutabaga seed is done in pretty much the same manner as saving turnip seed . Starting with …

Overwintered Turnips

Turnips are biennials, which means they have a two-year life cycle:

  • Year one: they grow a storage root accumulating energy.
  • Year two: the root uses that energy to produce a flower stalk, sets seed, then dies.

In our climate, turnips do not overwinter in the ground. To grow turnip seed, you need to dig roots in the fall and store them in a root cellar, fridge or cold room. And that’s where this story begins.

March 2009 – We had a lot of turnips in cold storage and were still bringing them to market.

I chose the nicest roots to re-plant for seed carefully inspecting the top of each root to make sure the growing point was intact. By the time the ground was dry enough to plant, most of the roots had leaves a couple of inches long.

Second Year Turnip Plants

April 24, 2009  – I planted the turnips 3 rows to a bed, 12″ apart in the row; and left the tops above ground. The yellow leaves were hungry for some tasty spring sunshine.

May 4, 2009 – In  just over two weeks, not only had the turnip leaves turned a vibrant green but they were now over a foot long.

May 13, 2009 – The turnip plants were covered in buds ready to open. These are also delicious fried with butter and garlic.

June 11, 2009 – The turnip flowers had just passed their peak

Next Steps

From this point on, saving turnip seed is the same as saving most other brassica seeds. Two of my previous posts cover the specifics of

The turnip story continues next post when we discuss how a generation of saving turnip seed fits into the bigger picture. I can’t wait either!

8 thoughts on “Saving Turnip Seed

  1. Turnips, one of my favorite vegetables. We actually have pretty good luck overwintering both Seven Top and Purple Top turnips in the garden, under row covers…any bit of warmth in the winter and they are one of the few greens that will actually start growing for us. I will definitely have to try the tops fried with butter and garlic…sounds good. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this and look forward to the next post.

    1. Hi, Sorry for the delay in my response.

      For turnips, select the best roots in the fall. Overwinter them in a cold cellar then replant in the spring. From then on follow other brassica seed saving tops. You an search my blog for brassicas and you’ll find tons of info!

      Good luck, Dan

  2. i am from a small island at the north of scotland the name is orkney is as i,m sure you will know we have to contend with wind and salt air is there any tips you can give us to harvest the doon major variety as it is no longer available

Leave a Reply