How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Hakurei Turnips
If you don’t like turnips, this delightful, sweet gourmet root will change your mind! Former organic farmer and vegetable expert Logan Hailey digs into simple growing tips for refreshing crunchy Japanese turnips that even kids will crave!
If you don’t like turnips, this delightful, sweet, gourmet root will change your mind! A lot of people wrinkle their noses at the thought of turnips. These mustard-family roots often get a bad rap for their slightly bitter taste, brownish-purple color, and association with “poor man’s” cuisine. But the Japanese ‘Hakurei’ turnip turns all these generalizations on their head.
Its crisp, buttery smooth texture and mild refreshing flavor are wrapped in a gorgeous white package that tastes so sweet and juicy that it’s hard to even call it a turnip! ‘Hakurei’ turnips are the trendy foodie cousins of your grandma’s classic purple top turnips. The snow-white rounded roots have a delicate fruity flavor tasty enough to eat raw! They have recently gained popularity in American farm-to-table cuisine. Once you try them, you’ll probably never garden without them again.
The ‘Hakurei’ is remarkably easy to grow, requiring similar space and maintenance to a radish. Just be sure you sow a lot because these roots disappear quickly once you discover how tasty they are straight from the garden. Let’s dig into everything you need to know about growing sweet Japanese turnips! Surely, they will reclaim the humble turnip’s reputation in the garden!
‘Hakurei’ Turnip Overview
Plant Type Annual root vegetable
Plant Family Brassicaceae
Plant Genus Brassica
Plant Species rapa ‘Hakurei’
Hardiness Zone 3-11
Planting Season Spring and fall
Plant Maintenance Low
Plant Height 12-18”
Fertility Needs Low to moderate
Companion Plants Radish, alyssum, scallions, garlic, peas, lettuce
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Plant Spacing 1-2” between plants, 12-18” between rows
Watering Needs Moderate
Sun Exposure Full sun
Days to Maturity 35-40
Pests Flea beetles, cabbage flies, root maggots
Diseases Leaf spot, black rot, downy mildew
History and Cultivation
Turnips and their rutabaga relatives have been cultivated for thousands of years. Because the turnip root is so hardy, frost-resilient, and easy to grow, they were often considered a food source for the poor. The easily storable roots provided enough sustenance for farmers and livestock throughout the winter. European aristocrats refused to eat them.
However, this humble vegetable was a staple for a reason: it is remarkably resilient! Turnips are simple to cultivate, low-maintenance, easy to store, and nutritious. Their native origins likely came from wild mustards growing throughout Europe and Asia. As members of the Brassicaceae or cruciferous family of vegetables, turnips are also related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.
What is ‘Hakurei’ Turnip?
‘Hakurei’ is a variety of turnips with tender white round roots best harvested when they reach golf-ball size or slightly larger. The flavor is delicate and slightly fruity, between an apple and a mild radish.
Unlike their dense storage root relatives, these fresh-eating turnips don’t need to be cooked and are often best enjoyed straight from the garden! You can prepare them in salads, slaws, kimchi, quick pickles, soups, roasts, and sautés across many cuisines.
Also known as Tokyo turnips, salad turnips, or Japanese turnips, ‘Hakurei’ was developed in Japan around World War II and has since become a popular hybrid seed variety widely available in the United States. The root vegetable has a juicy, refreshing sweetness that can be enjoyed raw, pickled, boiled, or roasted, setting it apart from the dense starchiness of standard turnips or potatoes.
Where Did ‘Hakurei’ Turnips Originate?
‘Hakurei’ turnips were developed by plant breeders in Japan during World War II. The mildly sweet, buttery-crisp roots have thin, pearly white skin that doesn’t require peeling or much cooking. As Japanese people faced severe food shortages in the 1940s and 50s, farmers and gardeners turned to this quick-growing, nutrient-dense crop to help feed masses of hungry people.
Recall that Japan was prohibited from trade with the United States in 1941. Previously, they were heavily dependent on food imports. Farmers were forced to jump into action when international food was cut off practically overnight. ‘Hakurei’ turnips became an important substitute for the inadequate rations of rice, beans, and insects. They grow quickly and easily and can be eaten fresh.
If you’ve ever grown a radish, you’ll be delighted to find that the delectably smooth and crisp ‘Hakurei’ requires almost the exact same care and conditions. The small black brassica seeds are best sown directly in the garden.
The best time to plant turnips is in the cool weather of fall or spring. However, you can plan for multiple successions of ‘Hakurei’ turnips throughout early summer. The plants tolerate moderate frost but prefer to germinate in cozy soil around 65-80°F. If you’re unsure, use a soil thermometer probe before planting.
Prepare a weed-free seed bed, optionally raking smooth a 1” layer of compost over the surface. Create shallow furrows ¼” to ½” deep in rows 12-18” apart. Disperse the turnip seeds in 2-4” wide bands, each seed about 1-2” apart.
Sowing in Clusters
Some farmers sow in clusters of 2-3 seeds every 2”, allowing you to selectively harvest and thin them as they mature. Like radishes, salad turnips don’t mind growing in little bunches as long as there is room for each bulb to grow 1-2” in diameter. Avoid sowing too densely, or it will be difficult to sort through the jumble of greens to properly thin.
Gently cover with a thin layer of soil. Avoid burying too deeply, or the seeds may not have enough energy to reach the surface. Maintain continuous moisture with a watering can or fan-nozzle hose.
Germination takes 7-14 days. After germination, you can use your fingernails to pinch away any overcrowded seedlings. Be careful not to yank or disturb the baby plants you want to keep.
Row Cover is Highly Recommended
A row cover is highly recommended no matter where you direct seed your salad turnips. These quick-growing roots are, unfortunately, very popular amongst flea beetles. The flea beetles prey on young crops and can decimate the leaves with a million tiny shotgun holes that can quickly skeletonize seedlings.
As an organic farmer, I never ever seeded turnips without a row cover. I left the row covers over the plants for the entirety of their 30 to 40-day lifecycle. The row fabric creates a physical barrier to keep pests out. It also creates a warm microclimate that can speed up germination. ‘Hakurei’ turnips grown under cover yield more beautiful, flawless, and blemish-free pearly white roots with tender mustardy greens.
The key to successful row cover use is installing irrigation underneath the fabric. The soil moisture will be uneven if you try to overhead water through the fabric. It’s best to use drip lines or soaker hoses under the fabric. Otherwise, remove the fabric to water with a hose and drape it back over the top. No hoops are required for this low-growing crop. The fabric can gently “float” over the surface of the greens. Be sure you weigh down the edges with sandbags or smooth rocks to prevent the cover from blowing away.
Transplanting from Cell Trays
While less common, you can also transplant these turnips or grow them in containers. Many people believe it’s not possible to transplant taproot crops (this is true for carrots and fragile cucurbits), but turnips don’t mind transplanting. This is a great way to get a head start in spring and protect young plants from pests.
Biodegradable pots or a paper pot are the best for transplanting root crops because you don’t have to remove the plant from the container. If you don’t have access to biodegradable pots, you can use a 144-cell tray.
Fill containers with a well-drained soil mix and sow clusters of 2-3 turnip seeds in each cell. Seeds should be planted ¼ to ½ inch deep and lightly covered with vermiculite or potting mix. Maintain consistent moisture until germination, keeping the trays in the same full sunlight area as your other seedlings.
When the seedlings are 2-4” tall, you can prepare them for transplanting by slowly reducing water and hardening them off for a few nights outdoors.
The best time to plant gourmet salad turnips is spring or fall. However, in mild climates, these quick-turnaround root crops can be sown in continuous succession throughout the summer. Here are some more details for a streamlined and successful planting process:
The spacing for salad turnips depends on how large you want the roots to be. Radish-sized or golf-ball-sized turnips can be spaced 1-2” apart or grown in clusters of 2-3 turnips with 2-3” between each cluster. Leave 12-18” between the rows to allow space for the greens to proliferate.
How to Transplant
If you choose to transplant ‘Hakurei’ turnips, the cluster-sowing method helps prevent root damage. The groups of 2-3 seedlings per cell should appear robust and vibrant before moving them into the garden. Ensure the roots fill out the cells so the root ball stays fairly intact when you remove it.
Prepare your bed like a seed bed, amending it with a thin layer of compost on top. Make small “dibbles” where each group of turnips will go, and ensure the soil is thoroughly loosened at least 6” deep. Don’t cram the cells into your garden soil, or you might damage the taproots, causing the whole seedling to flop before developing the rounded white bulb.
You’ll probably want a continuous supply after you fall in love with these delicious turnips. Succession planting is the art of staggering your sowings so your turnips mature at different times throughout the season.
For a fast-growing crop like ‘Hakurei,’ you certainly don’t want dozens of roots in the ground at once. These crisp white veggies are best enjoyed when they’re young and can get oversized fairly quickly. The larger turnips are still tasty but not as tender and sweet.
Seed Every 1-2 Weeks
To enjoy regular harvests of perfectly sized roots, seed a row of Tokyo turnips every 1-2 weeks. As you finish harvesting your early spring planting, the next succession will be nearing golf-ball size, and a third succession will be germinating. This allows you to maximize fresh harvests throughout the season without occupying too much garden space.
You can technically seed turnips throughout the spring, early summer, and autumn. The only time I would avoid growing these turnips is in the peak summer heat of July and August, sometimes into September in the southwest. In warmer climates, the scorching summers can cause bolting or overly spicy, intense roots. Save your turnips and radishes for slightly cooler weather and savor them around times of light frosts, as this is when the roots are the sweetest.
How Long Does It Take for ‘Hakurei’ Turnips to Grow?
Young, golf-ball-sized turnips can be harvested as quickly as 30 days after seeding. Larger salad turnips take 40-50 days. The roots have smoother skins and a more tender texture when harvested small. The greens are also less spicy when picked early.
How to Grow
You will have no problem growing Tokyo turnips if you’ve successfully grown a radish. The keys to success are:
- Using row cover
- Loamy, well-drained soil
- Consistent moisture
- Proper spacing and thinning
- Timing your harvest
Here’s a few more details:
These refreshing roots require full sun to thrive. Choose an area with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Dappled shade is fine in southern climates. However, too much shade can cause “leggy” or spindly greens and small, underdeveloped roots. If your turnips look pale green or grow very slowly, it’s probably a sign that they aren’t getting enough light.
Consistent moisture is key for happy roots. Big fluctuations from bone-dry to soggy wet soil can cause weird mutations, diseases, and undesirable texture. Instead, keep a drip line or soaker hose near each row of turnips. These bulbs are very shallow-rooted and only access water within the upper 3-4” of soil.
Irrigating at the base is very important, especially when using row cover (which is highly recommended). Overhead sprinklers may have difficulty saturating the root zone and can cause disease problems on the leaves.
Once established, turnips typically need about 1 inch of water per week. Check the soil moisture every couple of days in the early stages. Stick your finger in the dirt and gauge the moisture based on how much soil sticks to your skin. If your skin comes out clean, it’s too dry. The soil is too wet if your finger comes out looking as though you just dipped it in brownie batter. Find a happy medium where a little bit of soil sticks to your skin and feels pleasantly moist, like a wrung-out sponge.
Loamy, rich, well-drained soil is vital for happy vegetable roots. Ensure your garden bed has plenty of quality compost and organic matter mixed into it. Because ‘Hakurei’ are fairly shallow-rooted, you can grow them in lower beds as short as 8” deep. I like to put them in the Birdie’s Urban Short 9-in-1 Metal Raised Bed. Save your tall raised beds for deep-rooted crops like carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers.
The soil should feel light and fluffy. If it is heavy and compacted, the turnips will have difficulty penetrating the upper layers and forming healthy, tender roots. Sometimes, they will even attempt to grow above the soil surface because their taproots aren’t strong enough to break through hard soil. In this case, a broad fork is the perfect way to aerate your soil and add oxygen to the lower layers. This also improves drainage, water infiltration, and beneficial microbial activity.
Climate and Temperature
Like most brassica-family crops, turnips enjoy cool weather and tend to bolt in extreme heat. The ideal ambient temperature is 50 to 70°F. When established, these roots are mildly frost tolerant. In hotter climates, use shade cloth or only plant in the spring and fall. Hotter weather typically yields strong-flavored roots that may have more of a radish-like spice.
The best soil temperature range for ideal germination is 65-80°F, but they can germinate in soils as cold as 60°F. When in doubt, use a soil thermometer probe to check your bed temperatures before seeding.
These lovely root veggies don’t need a lot of fertility to thrive. Oftentimes, a rich compost is plenty to ensure an abundant harvest. If your soil lacks fertility, add a small dose of organic all-purpose fertilizer to slow-release throughout the growing season. Avoid anything with excessive nitrogen, as this can fuel massive green growth at the expense of root development.
If you want to grow flawless pearly white ‘Hakurei’ turnips like a pro, do not skip this step! Row cover is a semi-translucent woven agricultural fabric that allows water, sunlight, and air in but keeps pests out.
Flea beetles are a major issue with this crop. Root maggots can also be problematic, and they develop from a small gray fly that can be excluded with a cover. You probably don’t want to spray your turnips all the time, so be sure to use this underrated garden tool!
Toss or “float” the fabric over the top of the bed when seeding. Keep the row cover on for the crop’s entire lifespan. Cut your row covers to the perfect size for your beds (leaving a foot on each side to anchor them down) so you can use them for every succession.
This is the biggest farmer’s secret to beautiful salad turnips:
- Seed the bed
- Water the seeds in
- Lay down your drip lines (to irrigate underneath the fabric
- Secure the row cover with sandbags or smooth rocks
- Leave some loose overhead space for growth
Remove the row fabric when you need to thin, weed, or harvest, then toss it back on. Flea beetles can smell these roots from a mile away, and once a few get underneath the cover, your turnips could be doomed.
‘Hakurei’ is often used synonymously with ‘Tokyo’ turnip, salad turnip, and Japanese turnip. However, a few variations of this sweet, fresh-eating turnip reclaim the tarnished reputation of the classic ‘Purple Top’ turnip. Rest assured, we don’t mean to hate on the old-fashioned turnips; they can still be delicious when grown and prepared properly!
The original F1 hybrid, ‘Hakurei,’ is the superior choice for fresh eating. The mild flavor, low spice, and tender apple-like crunch are delectable.
The roots are selected for near-perfect white skins, juicy texture, and fruity flavor notes. Remember, you can’t save true-to-type seeds from hybrids, so this cultivar has to be repurchased every season.
Very similar to ‘Hakurei,’ this is another white Japanese hybrid that won the All-American Selection award. The perfect globe-shaped roots mature in 25-45 days and have great bolt resistance. It is sometimes called kabu, kabura, or manjing in Japanese.
An early bright red salad turnip, ‘Hirosaki Red,’ adds color to your spring salads. They are slightly spicier than Tokyo turnips but less intense than a radish. We love the tender, juicy texture and pretty pink skins.
Pests and Diseases
Turnips are fairly resilient to pests and diseases. Thanks to their quick growth cycle, you can easily avoid damage or alternatively pull a crop and start over if things go awry.
As mentioned above, flea beetles can smell turnips and radishes from long distances and come in with a vengeance. These shiny little beetles can put a million tiny holes in your turnip greens in a few days.
Fortunately, prevention is simple! Don’t skimp on the row cover! Physical exclusion is the easiest and most ecological way to keep these pests out. You can also use a diluted neem oil solution and companion planting with white alyssum, dill, or yarrow to attract parasitic wasps and other natural predators.
Root Maggots and Cabbage Flies
These pests are easy to exclude when using row cover. Root maggots are the larvae of a tiny gray fly, so if you keep the fly out, you should be able to avoid them.
However, if root maggots take hold in your turnips, they impede water uptake, so the plants may appear wilted in broad daylight, even with plenty of soil moisture. The best action is to pull the crop and start over in another garden area using a row cover!
Alternaria Leaf Spot
Alternaria leaf spot is a common fungal disease that resembles bleached or yellow splotches on the leaves. The lesions tend to develop between the leaf veins and are lined with brown margins.
The easiest prevention is to avoid overhead irrigation. The disease is mostly cosmetic (harming your enjoyment of beautiful turnip greens) but can also hinder photosynthesis. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to water at the base.
This damaging bacterial disease attacks the leaves of turnips and rutabagas, quickly killing the crop. The first sign is yellowing of the lower leaves and V-shaped lesions along the leaf edges. Eventually, the leaf veins turn black and begin to die.
Source disease-free seeds from a reputable company and immediately dispose of any infected plants.
Just like leaf spot, downy mildew tends to develop on the foliage whenever you water overhead. Keep turnip greens as dry as possible and widen your spacing in humid climates to maintain adequate airflow. In extreme cases, you can try an organic-approved copper fungicide to slow the spread.
All parts of this plant are edible. While the roots are most favored, the greens can be sauteed and used like kale in many dishes. Enjoy Tokyo turnips raw, cooked, or fermented. They are delicious when shredded into a salad or slaw or sliced and eaten with hummus.
You can roast them whole with potatoes, beets, and radishes. They make an incredible addition to quick pickles or fermented kimchi blends. Best of all, ‘Hakurei’ turnips are a refreshing and hydrating summer snack straight from the soil.
Are ‘Hakurei’ turnip leaves edible?
All turnip leafy greens are edible, and when harvested young, they can be quite delicious. The green tops are best chopped up and added at the end of a root saute until slightly wilted. Season with salt, olive oil, and tamari or soy sauce to add flavor. The greens get spicier in hot weather or as the crop ages.
What does ‘Hakurei’ turnip taste like?
The delicate, mild flavor of ‘Hakurei’ turnips differs from any turnip you’ve ever tried! They are sweet, crisp, and almost fruity in flavor. The texture is somewhere between a crisp radish and a juicy apple. There is little bitterness or spice unless you allow the roots to get too large. Grow in cool weather and harvest at 2-3” in diameter for the sweetest, most tender roots.
Can ‘Hakurei’ turnips be eaten raw?
‘Hakurei’ are the only turnips you’ll want to eat raw! This is when they shine the most. Also known as salad turnips, these gourmet white roots are tender, sweet, crisp, and refreshing. They do not need to be cooked and have a natural sweetness that sets them apart from their relatives. You can pop them in your mouth whole or shred and grate them into a salad or slaw. They’re also excellent in ferments or sautes with their greens.
These unique gourmet roots provide a delicious reward for very little effort! For the most successful crop of ‘Hakurei,’ remember to:
- Stagger your plantings every 1-2 weeks for a continuous supply.
- Harvest young for the most tender and sweet roots, ideally when they are golf ball-sized or slightly larger.
- Always use a row cover to protect from pest damage and ensure clean, white skin.
Don’t forget to enjoy the nutritious greens or use them as a quality compost ingredient!