Falling Off the Turnip Truck – Tuesday Tip

“Thank God for good directions…and turnip greens.”

– “Good Directions,” by Billy Currington

 

Welcome to Tuesday Tips! This will be a stopping place of interest for all you readers to gain some insight into what I am doing at the moment in my own outdoor world. Hopefully you will find these periodic quick tips and suggestions to be helpful tools for you to grow tall in your own outdoor knowledge and skills.

Today we’re taking on (drum roll, please)…the turnip.

You know how sometimes you just put energy out into the universe and the signals immediately bounce back to confirm that you’re on the right track? That happened to me early this week.

I had decided, in the quiet of my own private mind, to write about turnips because (number 1) that’s what I’m handling in my garden at the moment and (number 2) Tuesday Tips needs to be authentically about what I’m doing, right? I won’t lie, though. I absolutely second-guessed myself on this one. I literally thought, “Do people REALLY want to hear about turnips?” I mean, come on. Turnips are those things that your great-aunt, who you only see once a year, shows up with for Thanksgiving dinner in a blue-rimmed floral bowl, everyone peering down at them on the buffet with that utter look of uncertainty as to what to do next, someone three people behind you graciously saying, “Oh, who brought turnips? I love turnips!” I get it. Turnips confuse people.

The funny “universe signal” was that, after I had landed on the odd topic of turnips, I picked up a book on Beatrix Potter and began reading where I happened to have left off several weeks ago. The initial paragraph went…

“The cool-weather crops are ready to go in. Cabbages like the cold,
along with their cousins, broccoli and cauliflower, and Beatrix
plants all three. Turnip seed can be planted. After they germinate
and grow on for a few weeks, when she has time, Beatrix “single[s]
the turnips,” pulling out the extras to give each seedling its
own space, room for their roots to fill out.”

 

Well, that pretty much sealed the deal. I figured I was meant to talk turnips. I mean, seriously? What are the chances I would think about turnips and then immediately read about turnips??? (If you’ve been paying attention to this blog since the beginning, yes…this is the SAME Beatrix Potter book that I mentioned back in my October post on mushrooms…and, yes…I am the SLOWEST reader on the planet.) I digress.

So, turnips it is! And here are my glorious tips…

Here in North Texas we have two short growing seasons instead of one long season, like you might have in, say, Indiana. For the fall, we plant our turnip seed from about Valentine’s Day through about the second week in March.  Unlike Beatrix, though, I don’t usually “single” my turnips as seedlings. “Singling” simply means to thin, so that each plant has full room for the root to bulb out. I just really don’t need that many turnips. Turnips go a long way, you know! You can typically get two rounds of greens here before the plant is completely done.  So I sow a bunch of turnip seed and let all of the plants come up until the greens are a nice medium size. Then I give the greens a haircut, as I call it, and use the first cutting to cook with collards and mustard and even Swiss chard.

Turnip greens get a haircut.

 

A harvested trio of first-round collards, red mustard and turnip greens.

 

When you give the haircut, here is where the tip on “singling” comes in.  Invariably, there will be turnips scattered throughout, often on the edges, that are beginning to bulb. When I see those, I pull entire plants out that are surrounding them so that those roots have more room.  That then leaves a bunch of tight plants still left to produce another round of greens, but also, now, a solid selection of singled plants that will form nice, healthy roots.

 

Example of a young turnip under tight foliage, a perfect candidate for nearby thinning.

 

The haircut and thin happened in my garden on April 22.  Here we are today, roughly three weeks later, and I have harvested the full grown turnips and a second round of greens!

 

Plump turnip harvest.

 

So, what do I do with my turnips???  Well, I cook the second round of greens just as I did before, and turnip roots actually make a great thickening agent for soups, if you don’t like them prepared other ways. I have cooked and puréed them and then added some of the mix to various soups many times. I also go ahead and harvest any little bite-sized turnips, because the outside temperatures will be getting too hot now for the plants to continue to grow well. I haven’t tried it before, but I intend to pickle those with some other small veggies. I’ll post a turnip recipe or two coming up, along with the pickling tips that I try.

If you didn’t plant turnips this spring, not to worry. File this article away for future use. In areas of the south, anyway, with the two short growing seasons, you’ll have the opportunity to plant turnip seed again for the fall between late August and the end of October.  Try it this fall, and when your friends ask you all about what you’re planting, simply share your wealth of knowledge and jest, “You know, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.” You’ll have instantaneous garden street cred. Trust me on this one. 😉

 

All the best,

A. J.

– All content images by Amanda J. Schulz.

 

 

Seeds of Sustainability – Vol. I

– Featured Image photo by: Nathaniel R. Schulz

“Inside of the seed is an entire forest.”

– R. A. Delmonico

 

I have a goal of better honoring sustainability in 2018. To speak these words, though, is to also commit to thinking several moves ahead, which sometimes proves difficult when balancing a career, volunteer hours, managing a household with two little ones and, now, tackling coursework for a Master Gardener’s certification. I mean, I’m decent at chess, but I’m no Bobby Fischer.

In doing some research on sustainability, I came across a great summary of what it means to garden sustainably. Planet Natural Resource Center defines the concept by saying:

“Sustainable gardening is one of the most important and effective sustainability practices that we can follow. Its practice and benefits include respecting, and improving the soils, using native plants, shrubs and trees to create beautiful landscapes, feeding one’s family fresh, organically-grown fruits, berries and vegetables and utilizing every renewable resource that nature provides, from rain water to gravel.”

Being that it’s finally winter, so-to-speak, here in North Texas, we can begin to sustain with a relatively easy task…harvesting seeds. If you are concerned that maybe the seed ship has sailed, bundle up and do a little outdoor exploring. I harvested several varieties last weekend, as some of the final seeds had not yet fallen. Fall/winter harvest on all of the species highlighted in this post can really stretch from October through January, depending on the brutality of the North Texas weather.  Old Man Winter has been pleasantly kind this year (excluding his somewhat irritable demeanor this past week). I collected eleven different varieties of seed from our pollinator garden, intent on expansion to new spaces and also to further my commitment to #plantsharenow with other enthusiasts. These eleven, I’ve categorized into four basic groups:  (1) the clusters, (2) the pom rockets, (3) the paratroopers and (4) the k-dots (kids doing their own thing).  I’ll discuss the first three in this post and follow up with category #4 next week. In terms of supplies for harvesting, I prefer to collect in brown paper lunch bags versus plastic bags, as plastic tends to promote condensation and mold. Once seeds are harvested and cured, dried out for a bit, we use Proterra Seed Envelopes for dividing, labeling and sharing our treasure.

You can understand how best to collect seed by first understanding the differences in plant varieties.  Pollinator gardens are full of what I call “clustered” flowers, such as our purple Celestial Mistflower, yellow Fennel and white Frostweed, shown below.  Being clustered blooms, their seeds will also cluster into quite a bounty, solidifying the truth that sometimes a little does, indeed, “go a long way.”

As these flowers cycle through their blooms and begin to dry, you will want to harvest when you see the color black.  You can easily see the black whorl of Celestial Mistflower seeds, ready for collection, in the center of the photo below (left). Notice directly below that, however, is a completely empty casing void of black. That’s when you say, “Bon voyage!” That ship has definitely sailed. Similarly, the Frostweed clusters in the second image (right) are full of nestled black seeds, and you can again notice the difference in the fully open and empty casings, further along the stem, in the lower right section of the photo.

Fennel clusters are a little different in that each tiny flower on the cluster produces one seed.  The seeds are ready when they appear as little dried footballs with black stripes (again black being key). If only nubs remain at the end of the stems, the seeds have already fallen.

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The next category I’ve cutely coined the pom rockets due to how the flowers dry and how the seeds emerge. Once all petals wilt and fall away from blooms like the Blanket Flower (left) and Mexican Sunflower (right), shown below, you are left with a pom pom-like ball, housing dozens of seeds. But harvesting these seeds requires a little more effort and can be prickly, so slip on your gloves.

The pointed tip of the seed is wedged down toward the center of the ball, and the flat, butt-end is what you see from the outside when looking down into the casing. Note the butt-end of the Mexican Sunflower above (lower right) has a distinguishable black spot in the center to help you better “spot” the seed. I find that if you take the tip of a paring knife or the end of the blade on a good pair of hand pruners, I love the tool below by Cutco, you can pop the seeds right out. Line them up, and they look like little rockets shooting off into outer space, or preferably your soil, to work their magic.

Finally, there are those flower varieties that I place into the paratrooper category.  Examples of these might be Tropical Milkweed and Milk Thistle, below.

“Why paratroopers,” you ask? These seeds detach using lovely silken threads, like parachutes, to be carried by the winds to their final landing sites.  I absolutely love the paratroopers.  The Tropical Milkweed seed, shown lifting in the breeze below, is simply nothing short of poetry in motion.

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It is worth noting, though, that paratroopers can be prolific. So if you don’t want ten thousand Milk Thistle popping up around your yard, I’d keep some of the jumpers in the plane. Just clip the blooms immediately after they flower, before the silk appears, and only selectively allow a few blooms to go to seed.

With a little effort and forward-thinking, we can all adopt some sustainable practices. Get out in your winter garden today and see which seeds you can still find hanging around for harvest. Keep some for your own spring garden, #plantsharenow with a friend and join me in a few days as we wrap up with tips on our final seed collection category…the k-dots.  Happy hunting everyone!

All the best,

A. J.

– All Content Images by: A. J. Schulz

Have any great tips on seed collection? Reply and share below.

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