By David Wall, Mount Pleasant Master Gardener
A potential food source for you or your garden soil next spring is the purple top turnip (PTT). Normally a biennial or two-year plant, you can plant them now and harvest or kill next spring. If growing them for your food supply, simply plant in October and harvest next spring. They take longer to grow than radishes, but they grow considerably bigger and have a better flavor.
PTTs have leafy greens on top above ground with a purple top for the above ground portion of the root. Everything below the purple portion is white. All portions are edible. They have a tap root that can penetrate deep in the soil. This enables the plant to draw nutrients from areas of the soil that are normally inaccessible to vegetable plants.
There are two basic ways to plant PTTs. If you’re growing them for food, you can make rows of shallow ½-foot deep trenches with your finger or a tool before planting seeds 1 inch apart. When they reach 4 inches tall, thin to one plant every 4 inches. If growing for soil enrichment, you can sow seeds with a sower or simply scatter with your hands.
The object of sowing by hand is to avoid the time consuming 1 inch apart planting, because your objective is to use the plants to improve the soil and subsequent crops. The tap root will bring nutrients from deep within the soil. Next spring, you can lightly till the area. This will kill the PTTs and make previously unavailable nutrients available for your spring planted crop.
Did I mention that PTTs are a great way to attract deer? An additional note is that if you want them to attract deer, you should’ve planted during the just-ended summer so the plants would now be of suitable size for the deer!