The Garden Patch: It’s March and almost time to plant … TURNIPS!

Well, here’s our last column relating to regular garden produce. If you have any questions regarding vegetable garden crops that we haven’t covered here, contact Wayne and he’ll direct your questions to me. It may take a week or two to get an answer to you, but we’ll do our best!

This week we’ll concentrate on two veggies, one everybody loves and the other some of us love – watermelons and turnips. So here we go …

Turnips and Rutabagas

030214-garden-turnipsTurnip is a cool-season vegetable that can be grown as a spring or fall crop in Kansas. Turnips are easy to grow and can be used for the root, top or both. Rutabagas are a relative of turnips that require considerably more time to develop. Rutabagas are best grown as a fall crop in Kansas.

Varieties. Purple Top White Globe, Tokyo and Just Right are common varieties for the root and top. Seven Top and Shogoin are varieties best grown for tops or greens. American Purple Top, Laurentian and Red Chief are rutabaga varieties.

When to plant. Plant spring turnips in mid- to late March to allow roots to develop before intense summer heat. Plant fall turnips in late July to early August. Rutabagas should be planted in mid-July.

Spacing. Plant seed about ½ inch deep and about 2 to 4 inches apart in rows at least 15 inches apart. Use a slightly deeper planting for fall crops. You can also plant turnips in a bed or wide row planting by scattering seed to produce a plant every 2 to 4 inches in each direction. Rutabagas may need 5 to 6 inches between plants. It is common to scatter seed for fall turnips over a section of the garden.

Care. Turnips need regular watering during their early development to ensure emergence and rapid growth. Weeds compete with small plants and must be removed early, using care to avoid damaging young, tender turnip plants.

Harvesting. When roots are 2 to 4 inches in diameter, pull and trim the tops. Store turnip roots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks. Harvest the tops when they are young and tender. Overmature tops or roots will be strong flavored, and the roots may be tough. Rutabagas will be slightly larger – about 3 to 5 inches in diameter at harvest because the plant is larger. The roots have a yellow interior.

Common concerns. Flea beetles and aphids.

And now WATERMELONS!

Watermelon is a native crop of Africa that grows well in the warm dry days of Kansas summers. The plant grows best in deep, sandy soils; however, small icebox-type watermelons can be grown on upland shallow soils. Watermelons require a lot of room and are not well adapted to small backyard gardens.

030214-garden-watermelons

Varieties. Round or elongated striped varieties include Crimson Sweet, Royal Sweet, Royal Jubilee, Mirage, Oasis, Allsweet and Calsweet. Round, dark green varieties include Blackstone and Blue Bell. Elongated light green varieties include Sweet Princess, Summer Flavor and Prince Charles. Icebox types include Sugar Baby, Gold Baby (yellow), Mickeylee and Minilee. King of Hearts is a good seedless variety.

When to plant. Watermelons thrive in warm soils and planting after all danger of frost is past in early- to mid May is recommended.

Spacing. Standard watermelons require about 50 square feet per plant or hill – 2 or 3 plants together. Plant 4 to 5 feet apart in rows 10 to 12 feet apart. Small vined icebox varieties can be spaced closer together, using 2 to 3 feet between hills in rows 5 to 6 feet apart. Plant seeds about an inch deep.

Care. Watermelons need a warm, sunny, well drained growing area. Weeds are difficult to control in sprawling vines, making early season weed control essential. Scrape weeds using shallow cultivation close to the plants. Watermelons can be grown as a transplant and transferred to the garden. Use a fairly large transplant or peat pot container for best results. Like cucumbers, muskmelon squash and pumpkin, watermelons have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Bees are necessary to transfer pollen from the male to the female flowers.

Harvest. Watermelons are ready for harvest when the underside of the fruit turns a bright, buttery yellow color and when the small, curled tendril where the fruit attaches to the vine has turned brown and died. Thumping larger fruit varieties produces a dull, hollow sound when ripe; however, small icebox types are difficult to thump to determine ripeness.

Common concerns. Cucumber beetles and aphids.

OK! That’s it! Starting next week we’ll move on to other garden concerns and helpful hints. Let us know if you have a particular question or garden problem and we’ll do our best to help!

Oh, and next summer – if you are thinking of using a lawn or garden chemical product, you probably want to know all you can about the product’s toxicity and it’s safety to the environment. ALL chemicals pose some risk, but some require more caution in their use that others.

In general, it is best for the environment to use chemicals that break down quickly or get taken up quickly by plants. It is also best to use chemicals that are held strongly by soil particles. Chemicals that are soluble generally have a higher chance of moving into water supplies. Most natural products such as BT (Bacillus thuringiensis products and insecticidal soaps) pose the least environmental risk.

Some of us are raised bed organic gardeners and really don’t use chemicals. Many plants are synergistic and with proper annual crop rotation most problems are avoided. PLEASE DON’T show this column to your friends in the chemical business. Rest well – gardening time is fast approaching! Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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