Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stupid Turnips

"I'm a GOOD turnip farmer."
There's a famous scene in Gone With the Wind in which Scarlett O'Hara gnaws on a turnip ripped from the soil, gets sick, then rails at the heavens, "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again!" Turnips proceed to sustain Scarlett and her family during those first tough years bringing Tara back to life.

Well. Scarlett would have gone very, very hungry indeed if she'd been relying on our turnip crop.
Turnips are supposed to be fairly easy to grow. So trouble-free that they're used for feeding pigs and cattle.

According to one farm's website (whose testimony I don't doubt, as they actually successfully grow crops), "Turnips require very little care, tolerate a wide range of soils and positively thrive in cold temperatures. "  

What turnips SHOULD look like.
The Seattle Times gardening column lists it as a standard winter crop. "Turnips are frost-hardy and like cool weather!" warbles Sunset Vegetable Gardening. "Where winters are mild, plant in fall for a winter crop," assures the Western Garden Book, adding that the plants need "ample space for root to reach full weight of 3-5 lbs."

I don't think our entire turnip crop registered 3 to 5 pounds in weight, though possibly it would've achieved this heady status if I'd weighed it before cutting off the greens, wiping off the slugs, and washing off the dirt.

In fact, it looked as if all the turnips had taken a vote and decided that just one of them would grow to anything like normal-turnip size, while the rest of them would remain little.

"I'll do the growin' around here, and don't you forget it."
Not only were most of them just cruciferous Ping-Pong balls, they were also riddled with tunnels. And a pillbug was cozily residing in one of them. Could the culprits be root maggots?

According to a gardening advice column in The Seattle Times, "Root maggots overwinter in the soil as larvae and pupate near the surface of the soil in the spring, using root crops like turnips for sustenance."

If they're pupating, they wouldn't be eating, and when they emerge from their pupae they'd be full-grown flies and wouldn't be gnawing roots, either, so they have to be talking about the larvae (which is what maggots are, after all).

Canadian Organic Growers notes cheerfully that "winter turnips or rutabagas are riddled by the maggots but only superficially at the bottom of the root which can be trimmed off at harvest," so I thought maybe the rotten little creatures were busy very early in the mild winter season.

Now I'm wondering if it was just our old familiar slugs rasping away at them. The University of Maryland Extension website chronicles the hollowing-out of turnips by young slugs here and notes "If your turnip crop yields stunted, hollow turnips...don’t overlook the possibility that slugs have found and adopted your turnip roots as near perfect places to live."

Though why the turnips stopped growing is a puzzler to me. Then again, I guess I wouldn't have much motivation, either, if I'd been gnawed by maggots or slugs.

Oh well. We'll get one pan of roasted turnips out of the lot, anyway (after having composted the heavily damaged ones). And the leeks did astonishingly well --the p-patch is a veritable old-growth forest of leeks. Too bad we haven't figured out a dish we like them in all that much...maybe we'll just use them as inspiration for writing and pen an ode to "Spring: A Leek."