This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
As a part of the winter crop of turnips will have to be sowed in this month, a few remarks on their general culture may be in place at this time.
We have two classes of this vegetable in cultivation, viz: the common, flat and globe-shaped Brassica rapat and the Swedish, or Ruta baga (Brassica campestris, van Ruta baga). In a wild state, both kinds are found growing in Britain, and other temperate parts of Western Europe. In such condition, they are mere weeds, with tough and stringy roots, and some of the varieties contain a considerable quantity of oily matter of a strongly bitter taste, which is almost entirely obliterated in the most improved kinds, when growing on a suitable soil. So much does the nature of the earth affect the flavor, that turnips sown cut of the same packet of seed, will be either tender, sweet, and nutty, or disagreeably pungent, and stringy in texture. To obtain this better quality, turnips should have a well-drained under base, and the very best soil for kitchen use is a pulverised, fresh, and rich sandy loam; the next best is newly turned up, but thoroughly ameliorated vegetable should, and the very worst is an old, and for a long time worked garden, that has been glutted with stable manure until the whole has become incorporated into a soapy-like humus.
All the Brassica, and our present subject in particular, are much benefited by guano, used previous to sowing or planting - say three hundred pounds to the acre. Upon the first mentioned land, a liberal dressing of rotted barnyard manure is also admissible when there is a deficiency of fertilising material; but in the two latter conditions, it is best to give a dressing of caustic powdered lime at the time of digging or ploughing the land. Superphosphate of lime, when pure, is also good, but does not always pay expenses; and likewise ground bones. The latter has a marked influence, in this instance, on poor soil, and becomes a permanent assistance to any other crops that may follow. There is no use in attempting to have turnips in the hottest months of summer, as they only produce dry and sticky bulbs, and soon run up to seed, while no difficulty is experienced in securing a good quality during three-fourthto of the year, provided suitable kinds are sown, and at the proper times. The Swedish varieties require-to be sown in drills eighteen inches apart, and half an inch deep; while the others will have space enough at one foot distance. An ounce of seed will serve for two hundred feet of drill.
As the " fly'7 is often very destructive to the young plants soon after germination, it is advisable not to thin out too soon. The best remedy against this destructive pest, is a free use of water overhead, in the evening, hut when this is not applicable, a light dusting of powdered guano will generally save the crop, as will, also, fresh wood ashes, and (though with less certainty) soot or lime. All these contain alkaline or ammoniacal properties, which are obnoxious to the insect, and serve a good purpose as fertilizers. When the plants have grown some four or five rough leaves, there is no further danger, and the superfluity should be then reduced, so as to leave those intended to remain, at eight inches apart Keep the soil free from weeds with the hoe, but never draw it np to the plants, which only produces a tendency to push out side roots, and disfigure the bulbs. On the contrary, when particularly clean and handsome bulbs are wanted, they may be obtained by moving the tops from side to side, so as to sever all the roots excepting the main ope, which penetrates perpendicularly downwards.
This hint may be useful to those who are in the habit of exhibiting, and if practised, will serve such, a good purpose.
The first early crop ought to be sown as Boon as the ground is in good working order, after the winter's frost breaks up, and the best kinds for this purpose are Early White Dutch, Early Six Weeks, and Early Snowball. The firet is the most commonly accepted, but is inferior in beauty to the other two. This sowing is all that will do any good for the present, but, in the middle of July, and on to the beginning of August, another may be made of the Swedish or Ruta baga varieties, the best of which, for kitchen purposes, are Skirving'e Improved Swede, and the smaller Purple-top Swede. These latter kinds are only used during the winter and early spring, but they are nevertheless good when of the size of a pippin apple; consequently, when there is a preference, they will make a good dish in the fall. The general winter crop of the common sorts, may be put in from the first to the middle, or even last of August, according as the locality is north or south. The middle of the month is about the best time for most of the Middle States, and here I would recommend the Purple-top Strap-leaved (a very handsome, flat, and white-fleshed sort, of good flavor), Yellow Dutch, and Golden Ball, both of which are beautifully formed, yellow in color, and keep well. - Turnips will bear some frost without any apparent external injury, but the texture and flavor are always injured thereby, which makes it necessary to prepare for housing in due time.
Choose a dry day to pull the roots, cut off the tops nearly close to the bulb, and throw all that are misshapen or injured.to one side. Those that are wanted for immediate and mid-winter use, may be placed in layers, one above the other, in a dry cellar, each of which should have a little dry soil or sand thrown over it, or they may be packed in tight barrels, and covered close with hay or some such like material, to prevent the air from drying and shrivelling them; this renders them very inferior, and often causes bitterness. For the remaining portion, choose a dry spot out of doors, pile the roots in a ridge, the base being from two to three feet wide, cover over a thin layer of straw, and upon this a sufficient quantity of earth, to keep out frost. Sometimes, when these ridges of root crops are made large, or the weather should unexpectedly remain mild or over damp, there is more or less of sweating taking place, which always injures the quality, and often causes the roots to decay. This may be entirely prevented, by standing a bundle of straw on the top of the ridge, at the distance of each three feet, until the earthing is completed, when it is to be drawn out, leaving an aperture for the escape of all fermentation or moisture.
After a time, these openings may be closed with earth, and, while they are in use, a "A" cover should be put over them, to keep out rain. The earth that is raised up, and placed over the ridge of roots, may be taken from, and around, the base, by which an excavation is formed; this will drain all water away, and keep the whole comparatively dry. When the frost becomes severe, a further covering of litter ought to be thrown over the whole, to insure further protection, and, in the spring, turnips preserved in this way will be found equally as good as when first pulled from the garden.