Most people don’t think of winter as a season in which you can garden, but here in Virginia, you certainly can–even without greenhouses or cold frames.
One of the foods we planted last fall and haven’t had to protect all winter is turnips. Now, it’s true that the temperatures down in the twenties a couple of weeks ago frostbit some of the leaves, so the turnip greens are not as good as they could be. (This could be fixed with some floating row cover.) But the turnip roots are just fine.
Since I planted our turnips a little late–not until Oct. 3, when prime turnip-planting season is more like late August and September–we’ve had to wait a while for our harvest. I pulled our first roots yesterday, even though they’re still a little small at 2″ in diameter. But they taste great.
Turnips are also very easy to prepare. Just peel and slice/dice as desired. Put into boiling water and simmer until soft (about 15-30 min., depending on size and quantity). I like to throw in a couple strips of uncooked bacon. They lend a lovely flavor to the roots. And of course, if your turnip greens look nice and healthy, chop them up and add them to the pot as well!
Do make sure that, if you plant turnips, you get a variety adapted to the season in which you’re growing them: spring or fall. Our fall turnip this year was Amber Globe, a pre-1840 heirloom purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Plant turnips 4-6″ apart in rows 3′ apart. Or, if you can count on good rainfall, plant them 3-4″ apart in rows 2′ apart.