June 20, 2011

The Last Turnips of Spring

Scarlet Queen turnips are harvested from one of my raised beds on the last day of spring.
 With the summer solstice approaching tomorrow, the last of the spring turnips are harvested so that I can replant the raised bed with pickling cucumbers and kohlrabi. Many people believe that only tomatoes taste better from the home garden, but to those of us who raise other vegetables, we know that although summer tomatoes taste exceptionally good, the truth is that many vegetables that are fresh and home-grown taste like nothing else one could ever buy at a farmers market or store, and it is the spring and autumn crops that often have the most defining flavor. June peas and spring turnips are sublime, when steamed and served with nothing else but fresh butter and sea salt. Once one has tasted them fresh from the garden, there truly is nothing better from the vegetable garden.
 Turnips are fast growers, particularly spring turnips. You know, those small white, or purple-top white turnips one sees at the market. Many people are confused with turnips, since here in New England, there are also winter storage turnips that are also called Rutabaga, that have yellow flesh and purple tops - those are the ones that are as large as soft balls, and appear in the markets in the late autumn and winter, covered in wax, and are hard-as-rock. Delicious, yes, but different than tender spring turnips, that are grown to harvest size in just a few weeks. The two turnips are grown differently, since spring turnips have tender stems, and can be grown for either their tender greens, or for fast turnip crops in the early spring and autumn. Rutabaga can only be sown in July, for autumn harvest.
 This year I grew a red turnip called Scarlet Queen ( there is a variety with green stems, and one with red stems), which is available from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Sown in late March and early April, the plants grew fast, and much of the crop was harvested as a greens crop, since we adore fresh, tender turnip greens almost just as much as the roots. I love how this variety looks like a beet, but the inside flesh is crispy and white, like a radish. Picked any later, and these would become woody since turnips dislike any stress while growing, even a day of wilting can cause woodyness in the root. A constant supply of water is necessary, and a short, fast, cool growing season is best.

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