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.

 

 

Much ‘shrooms

“Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.”

– Thomas Carlyle

 

Just over a week ago I traveled to Napa with J. for my birthday and took a little break from weekly writing (actually, I took a little break from pretty much everything). I had already chosen the subject matter for this post, though, before we left, so I found our stroll through downtown Yountville on Saturday evening to be nothing short of serendipitous. We had a relaxing late night dinner at Ad Hoc, and as we wandered back to the car, arm in arm in the crisp night air, we came upon a collection of stone toadstools casting intricate shadows onto the ground below. The display, by artist Richard Botto, bore the name “Rock Mushrooms,” and, in that moment, my evening was complete.

You see, I have a mild, let’s be honest, moderate to extreme obsession with mushrooms. I’m not sure where it started. When I search my memory files as far back as they will go, I think my first love came from the daily image of my mother’s Sears and Roebuck Merry Mushroom Canister Set that sat on our kitchen counter, holding flour, sugar, and other dry goods. If you lived at all in the 70s, you know someone who had this set. Then I remember those vintage mushroom Christmas ornaments that everyone’s grandparents had hanging on their trees during the holidays. I always loved those. Not long ago I got a hankering to find out why Christmas trees have mushroom ornaments. That’s a crazy story (you should definitely read that after you read this). It will make you question your entire existence. And then, of course, there’s children’s literature. My mother read the Babar the Elephant series to me and my little brother. In one scene Babar the King eats a poisonous mushroom and becomes very ill. I remember thinking, “That guy looks just like how I feel when I’m car sick.” Abhorring car sickness as I did, that sickly green elephant laid out on the ground kind-of made me want to steer clear of eating mushrooms (although I did covet them on our Sunday supper roast). I thought I had the lesson down pat, but then, invariably at bedtime on another night, we might be offered up Lewis Carroll and a hookah-smoking caterpillar convincing a pretty, tow-headed little girl that eating a mushroom to alter height was a perfectly acceptable idea. You can see how this complicates reason within a child’s brain (but hey, it was now the 80s). Mushrooms were comforting and whimsical and dangerous and perplexingly magical all at the same time. I was hooked.

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Illustration from Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar the Elephant.

 

About the time that J. and I were beginning to sketch out ideas for our pollinator garden in January, my friend R. G. posted an absolutely delicious photo on Facebook®. There they were, the most perfectly presented rust-hued mushrooms nestled among decaying wood, draped in velvety green moss, basking in exquisite sunlight. I melted and confessed to him my mushroom addiction and sunlit moss romance (yes…that’s a real thing too…I have dozens of photos of sunlit moss that I have taken over the years). Not long after that, I also began reading “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life,” by Marta McDowell, given to me by my very special friend N. DW. This was a woman who was so much more than just the inventor of a rabbit in a blue jacket with brass buttons. One of her many projects, over almost thirteen years of her life, was actually growing and studying fungi. She sketched and painted the various stages of growth, and even submitted an extensive paper for review to the Linnean Society of London, a note-worthy botanical organization. Sadly, it was quickly rejected…less likely due to its content and more likely due to her gender. So now with R. G. and Bea converging on me at the same time, I became inspired to begin the hunt on my own grounds.

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Toadstools at 11th Street Park (Houston, Texas) (photo: Rich Goen)

 

As early spring started to grab hold in our vegetable garden and the first signs of life began to take shape in the newly planned pollinator garden, I found myself noticing them and grabbing my camera. I once commented that it is as if an empty plot of land exists one day and then the next is suddenly inhabited by tiny villagers, demanding to be heard. That’s how I see the mushrooms. They seem to appear out of nowhere in masses. In fact, the American Journal of Botany notes that there are over five million species of fungi, outnumbering plants by six to one. That’s a lot of little villages. But not all of the villages are small. There are mushroom rings, for instance, growing near Stonehenge that are so large you can see them from an airplane.

If you are wondering about fungi in your own garden, they are perfectly harmless. In fact they actually assist in the decomposition process within the soil, helping to break down decaying matter into nutrients that plants can absorb through water entering the root system. So when you see mushrooms, something good and right and holy is happening within your soil. The only caveat would be if you see them growing on the actual structure of a tree or plant. Since fungi prefer decaying matter, this could be a sign that the tree or plant is already dying on the inside. If you live in the United States and are looking for an easy resource for identifying mushrooms, David Fischer’s American Mushrooms site has a pretty good index with over 1,000 photos. I’ve started using it as a quick guide when I see new specimens pop up. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve uncovered in my own garden this year…

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Agaric species under Sweet Potato Vine (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Agaric species under Black-eyed Peas (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Puffball species under Boxwood (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Bird’s-Nest species under Peanuts (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Stinkhorn species under Boxwood (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)
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Agaric species in mulch and grass pile (photo: Amanda J. Schulz)

 

So the next time you dig in your flower bed or take a walk through the park, be on the look-out for the fungi around you. They’ll be there, raising their little hands and demanding to be heard. You might not find yourself as oddly consumed as I am, but at least give them a slight nod of appreciation when you cross paths. After all, they take on death daily to give your world life!

All the best,

A. J.

Do you have a favorite mushroom photo to share? Leave a reply below!

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