Spring Companions: Turnips and Peas

Turnips and peas are staples of spring that can be enjoyed in some simple and healthy recipes.

Turnips

Bright purple turnips add color to the spring garden.

Photo by iStock/AnthonyRosenberg

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Turnips and peas are fitting companions in the garden. Both can be sown leading up to spring — peas about a month before your last frost and turnips about two to three weeks before your last frost. You can plant turnips where you’ve grown early peas, and you can plant both again in fall. With a quick search, you’ll also find many recipes that combine these two dissimilar yet complementary crops — with carrots and dill, with meats, in soups, or in curries. The recipes here offer a variety of flavors and some unique ideas for using turnips and peas — in pesto, with miso, and with mint. These lovely dishes can help you use up any turnips you stored through winter and also welcome your spring harvest.

Turnip-Green Pesto Pizza
Miso-Glazed Turnips and Snow Peas
Cauliflower 'Couscous' with Peas, Mint, and Feta

Pea Cultivars

‘Blue Podded’: ornamental; purple-blue pods; harvested young for snow peas or mature for soup peas

‘Tall Telephone’: vines up to 6 feet; large pods with 8 to 10 peas

‘Little Marvel’: vining; heirloom from 1908; large yield; good for home gardens

‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’: snow pea; large, sweet pods; fast-growing; needs cooler weather to produce higher yields

‘Carouby de Maussane’: large snow pea pods; vines up to 5 feet; pink and burgundy flowers; originated near Avignon, France

Growing Peas

When to plant. Sow about one month before your last frost. Where summers are cool, make additional sowings three weeks apart. Peas produce poorly in hot weather, so an early start is a wise strategy. In climates with mild winters, sow a second crop in late summer.

How to plant. All peas benefit from support. Install a 6-foot-tall trellis before planting long-vined cultivars. Compact cultivars can be staked with woody branches or tomato cages.

Prepare a wide planting bed by loosening the soil to at least 10 inches deep while mixing in compost. Do not use fertilizer unless your soil is very poor. Plant seeds in a double row, with a row of seeds on each side of the trellis. Poke seeds into the prepared site 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep. Thinning is not necessary.

Harvesting and storing. To avoid mangling the vines, use two hands to harvest peas. Harvest ripe peas daily, preferably in the morning. Pick snow peas when the pods reach full size and the peas inside are just beginning to swell. Immediately refrigerate or promptly blanch and freeze to maintain crisp texture.

Turnip Cultivars

‘Golden Globe’: good for spring or fall; sweet; lightly golden

‘White Egg’: pre-1880 heirloom; mild, white flesh

‘Purple Top White Globe’: pre-1880 heirloom; productive; easy to grow

‘Purple Top Milan’: white with purple tops; sweet and mild flavor; 19th-century Italian heirloom

‘Red Ball’ or ‘Scarlet Ball’: heirloom; likely from India; easy to grow; bright red color

‘Red Round’: bright red; crisp, red roots; fast-growing

‘Golden Ball’ or ‘Orange Jelly’ or ‘Boule D'or’: mainstay of European turnips; seeds from France; yellow; sweet and mild

Growing Turnips

When to plant. Sow a spring crop of salad turnips two to three weeks before your last frost; plant seeds up to 50 days before your first fall frost.

How to plant. Turnips can be planted in spaces vacated by early potatoes or peas. They grow best in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Mix a light application of a balanced organic fertilizer into the planting bed unless ample nutrients remain in the soil from the previous crop.

Sow turnip seeds about 2 inches apart and ½ inch deep. Turnips can be planted in rows spaced 6 inches apart, or you can broadcast the seeds over the bed and pat the soil to firm them into place. After seeds have germinated, thin turnips to 2 inches apart. Two weeks later, when plants reach 4 inches tall, thin turnips to 4 inches apart (and enjoy the greens from the pulled plants).

Harvesting. For best flavor, harvest turnips when they’re less than 2 inches in diameter. Store the greens in the refrigerator or freezer. Store roots (with tops trimmed back to 1 inch) in the refrigerator for several weeks.