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Swede/Rutabaga, Turnip and Radish

Swede – Brassica napus var. napobrassica

Turnip – Brassica napa

Radish – Raphanus sativus

The English word swede comes from the vegetable’s origins in Sweden, around 500 years ago, probably in a field where brassica seed was being grown – swedes are a cross between cabbage and turnip.

It has a range of names, including ‘Swedish turnip’ and ‘neep’ in Scotland, and is called ‘turnip’ in parts of England.  The Swedish word ‘rotobagge’ (meaning thick root) has been converted to ‘rutabaga’ in North America, where it may also be called the ‘Swedish turnip’ or ‘yellow turnip’.

30th August – brassicas by the greenhouse including swedes, which I had sown 43 days earlier
An early spring selection – the swede is Gowrie from a June sowing, just harvested, while many of the vegetables have been stored in the shed or house
10th May – the turnips look cleaner than usual (no brown tunnels) after hard frosts in March had killed the root fly larvae

This lesson also covers white turnip, partly for the context it gives to swede. White turnips contain more water than swede and are therefore less nutritious, although early-season turnips in springtime can be sweet and special.

Autumn turnips, in particular, have a pungent flavour. When we lived in France and shared a meal with neighbours, the old farmers would not eat turnip at all. It reminded them of starvation rations in wartime.

I have also found space for radish in this lesson. It was never going to make a whole lesson but fits nicely at the end here, in a separate section. It’s another close relation to turnip.

20th April – turnips CN7301 F1, multisown in February
Extra value from turnips –  edible greens outside in February
7th September, with a 39-day-old turnip – this was transplanted just 24 days earlier

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 40 for summer-sown turnip, 120 for summer-sown swede

  • Best climate is temperate and damp, not too hot and dry in summer, with a damp and mild autumn.

Why grow them

Swedes are the bass notes of winter. They won’t set your meals alight but they are always there when needed, often in quantity. Around here they are often on restaurant menus and more delicious than I can ever make them – it’s to do with the addition of butter!

For turnips, the ones I recommend are first sowings, for those early and sweet roots during the hungry gap. It’s good when they crop before pests arrive, especially cabbage root fly. Plus you can eat their leaves during the hungry gap and in late winter too, if roots have survived in the ground – they then grow new leaves before flowering.

Pattern of growth

Both of these are biennial, so they overwinter as a root then flower in the spring. Turnips can also flower in the summer after being sown very early because, if they experience enough cold while germinating and growing as seedlings, this triggers a ‘winter experience’ followed by ‘second season’ flowering.

The main period of harvest is winter. These are roots to store while in the dormant phase, which ends in early spring.

The Small Garden on 2nd July – the swedes have just been planted, bottom right, and then covered with mesh
The Small Garden, again on 16th October – the swedes are now interplanted with lambs lettuce; back in June I had intersown carrots between the lettuce
Direct-sown Noir d’Hiver turnips in mid-November

Suitable for containers/shade?

You can grow these vegetables in shade since they are brassicas, which like conditions to be moist and not too hot.

I am not convinced that they are worth growing in containers, with the one exception of early turnips, because they are rapid and do not grow large, therefore need less space. You could grow them before, say, transplanting tomatoes in the same container.


There is just one swede F1 variety, Tweed, though I did not notice enough difference from the open-pollinated varieties to recommend it.

I have found little difference between Joan, Helenor, Gowrie and Marian. All are good, and the latter claims resistance to clubroot.

Airlie swedes weather -10 °C/14 °F temperatures absolutely fine
Gowrie swedes in late October – at this point they’ve been in the ground for four months
Marian swedes in December – these have been in the bed for five and a half months, following the spring onions

There is more choice in turnips – Noir d’Hiver, for example, is a tasty winter turnip that stores well.

Fast-growing, open-pollinated varieties include Purple Top Milan, Manchester Market (yellow) and Atlantic Giant (white).

For sweet, white and perfectly round early turnips, it’s hard to beat the hybrids such as Tokyo Cross and Hakurei. You can pretty much think of them as a catch crop – sow them early and harvest them early, when they are not much larger than radish. Sweetbell F1 has similar attributes, with purple colour on the shoulder.

19th August, showing significant leaf damage on these directly sown turnips, mostly from flea beetle
Early September – the recently transplanted mustard plants on the left all grew, but there were gaps in the rows of direct-sown turnips on the right
Late October – these Purple Top Milan look promising; they can be harvested now or soon

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Clearing is rapid because your harvest results in empty ground, once you remove any lingering weeds. After autumn harvests, rake level and then spread 2.5 cm/1 in of compost. Your bed is then ready for spring planting.

Follow with

Harvests of early turnips finish in time for new plantings of any summer vegetable, from leeks and salad onions to carrots and beetroot.

After autumn harvests, you have the possibility of growing any vegetables the following spring, except for brassicas. In terms of rotation, I find best results from leaving at least a few months between plantings of the same family.


Raphanus sativus

From its origins, possibly in Southeast Asia, radishes now grow worldwide in many forms. They have been bred into long white daikon in Japan, red globe radish in Europe and radish for salad leaves in the UK. There are also winter radish grown as a fodder crop for farm animals.

Radish are in the Brassicaceae family, worth remembering for the shared pest issues.

Japanese radish 赤大根 (from and fennel for a course lunch, from an outside harvest on 29th February

- Days from seed to first harvest: 35–40

The best climate is temperate and moist, not too hot, and definitely not arid.

Why grow them

It's a personal call, as not everybody likes radish. My dictaphone calls them rubbish! Actually I love them in very early spring, when the cool conditions mean they are juicy and not too pungent. Their harvest is the first root vegetable of every year.

You can eat radish leaves, and their speed of growth on first sowings of red globe radish makes them a welcome early green. The reason they are not commonly eaten is the spiky leaf-hairs, which are not comfortable on the tongue.

  • There are varieties of ‘leaf radish’, which have been bred to grow smooth leaves with a fine radish flavour, without spiky hairs.

Furthermore, there is an incredible range of radish for sowing in late summer, to harvest through the cooler months. They have amazing colours and a decent flavour, plus you can cook them a little. All radish, even globe types which are normally eaten raw, are tasty when lightly fried or sauteed, even roasted. Treat them like turnips, their close relations.

Pattern of growth

Radish are biennials grown as annuals. They flower in spring, but a rapid rate of growth means that you have time to grow a harvest in early spring before they flower. Therefore the harvest of early spring needs taking quickly, before the radish grow woody as they start to make a flower stem.

Autumn harvests just keep growing, and radish resist a certain amount of frost. In cold climates they can be stored as you would a carrot or beetroot – unwashed and in boxes, cool and moist.

French Breakfast by 27th March; they were transplanted 26 days earlier and March was not too cold
Johnsons F1 Sparkler on the left and Bingenheim French Breakfast on the right, both sown on the same day two months ago – I am unimpressed by the quality of the hybrid radish, so variable in size and shape, plus they were quite tough to eat; in comparison, look at the uniformity of breeding work by Bingenheim's farmers

Suitable for containers/shade?

They are ideal for containers, thanks to a high speed of growth and not needing a large root run. In 2013, I set up a comparison of three composts in the same sized boxes and noticed little difference. One was old cow manure, and the radish grew as well in this as those in two different batches of homemade compost. One of the composts was from a heap that I had found here in December 2012.

Radish also grow well in shade; in fact, they like more temperate conditions, so shade is good if your climate is hot and dry. Best containers for radish are wide and flat, to give maximum surface area for many leaves to grow, resulting in worthwhile harvests.

Amazing multisown radishes growing in 5 cm/2 in module trays in the greenhouse – 7th April
The same day, after a cold March, these radishes have frozen a few times; they were sown in February in boxes of different composts and kept in the unheated greenhouse – old Homeacres compost on left, cow manure in the middle and Lower Farm homemade compost on the right


There are so many! One troubling thing though, which I have noticed recently, is the lack of maintenance given to traditional varieties such as French Breakfast. Also, in 2020 I grew some F1 hybrid radish that were disappointing, compared to traditional carefully selected radish from Bingenheimer Saatgut in Germany.

French Breakfast is a pretty, long radish with a distinctive white tip; it needs eating young and small, often goes hollow when larger and has a mild taste.

Rudi is a firm and dark red, round radish; it stands well without going soft.

Black Spanish is a large winter radish, with white flesh under a dark skin.

Mooli Minnowase grows a long, white mooli radish – a good variety if well maintained, also called Daikon.

Shawo Fruit is a bright green 'fruit' radish, semi-long and cylindrical – sow just after midsummer.

Green Luobo has green streaks inside a white exterior, is firm and crisp and good for pickling – sow as for Shawo.

Candela di Fuoco can be sown early or late, grows long and red, as in the photo below, and stays reasonably firm.

23rd October – harvest of Green Luobo radish, module-sown on 29th July
Red stem leaf radish under cover in the greenhouse in December, with a few leaves harvested already, from a September sowing
A very pretty Italian radish, Candela do Fuoco – their last harvest before a -4 °C/25 °F frost in late November

Sow and propagate

Even though it is a root vegetable, radish transplants really well. As with beetroot and turnips, the root part that we eat is actually a stem swelling just above root level.

  • Seeds germinate in two to four days, perhaps the fastest vegetable.
Multisown radish germinate fast when it’s warm enough; these have been on the windowsill in February for five days since sowing, and will now move to the greenhouse
28th April – direct-sown radish are pushing up fleece, 38 days since I sowed them; despite the fleece cover, they have some flea beetle damage to leaves

Sowing time

For red globe radish, sow under cover in late winter to early spring – early spring is good for direct sowing outside. The summer sowing is in early autumn, either under cover or outside direct.

For larger, winter radish, sow mid to late summer.

Mid-November – Minnowase radish, 10 cm/4 in rows and 30 cm/12 in apart
Harvesting Mooli Minnowase in mid-November – these are easy to harvest by pulling out the soil; they were sown in late July

Sowing method

Using module trays, sow five seeds per cell, and thin to four seedlings if need be. Four in a clump gives a lovely sized radish, and plenty of them!

For sowing outside, draw a drill about 5 cm/2 in deep from the top to the bottom of the drill, and make the drills as close as you can, as little as 15 cm/6 in apart. Seed at a spacing of approximately 1 cm, or three per inch.

You can also sow radish in the same drills as your carrots and parsnips.

Transplant, interplant

Transplant size and time

Seedlings grow rapidly under cover, but for first sowings it's still early in the year and quite cold, so they are often about four weeks old when you transplant them. Later, when it’s less cold, they can be as little as two weeks old, and it works really well to transplant smaller rather than larger seedlings.

Dibbing holes to transplant radish in early March
21st March – a new planting shows the depth of setting in the transplants, which I now cover with fleece; see the photo of the harvest of 23rd April below

Transplant method

Radish seedlings make long stems, therefore your planting holes want to be on the deep side. Push in the module cells firmly so that all stems will have soil or compost around them.

You don't need to fill the holes after transplanting because watering will do that for you. It's good to water in straight after planting.

  • Early plantings benefit from a fleece or row cover, both for weather protection and against flea beetles, birds and rabbits.
  • You can keep a cover on until harvest time, resting on the leaves – they easily push it up.


For red globe radish, very little space is needed, just 15 cm/6 in between multisown clumps. Your direct-sown seedlings may need thinning to 1 cm/two or three radish per inch.

Winter radish need 5–10 cm/2–4 in of space, in 20 cm/8 in rows, or 30 cm/12 in between clumps.


Radish are watery, so keep soil moist most of the time. Nonetheless, it is still possible to give too much water, as with any plant. Remember that excess water means a reduction in soil air. In dry weather, a good dose of water twice a week should be sufficient.

22nd March, after transplanting – see fleece covering the new plants; by spring equinox the Small Garden has been almost entirely planted
10th April in the Small Garden, now 20 days after transplanting – the radish is on the left
Harvest time! Pulling Rudi radish on 23rd April in the Small Garden

Harvest times and methods

How to judge readiness

You can pull red globe radish as soon as they are visible and identifiable. The first small radish are sweeter and milder than later ones, so it's good to begin early.

You will probably have a fair amount to eat from one sowing, and starting to harvest early gives more time to eat it all. As it warms up in spring, you suddenly have an abundance, and mature radish develop a pungent flavour, especially in hot weather.

  • Once you see any flower stem, best harvest all radish because they are now becoming tough in texture.
  • Winter radish stand for a long time without losing quality. Harvest once they look close to the size you want – they can remain in the soil for a long time.

2nd May – pulling lovely Bingenheim Rudi radish, which were sown six weeks ago in the same drills as parsnips (closest) and carrots (further away)

30th April – Martin is pulling radish from the bed in some welcome rain; these were sown in the same drills as the carrots, 40 days earlier at the spring equinox

How to pick

With multisown clumps, you can twist out individual radish and leave the rest to grow some more. Or, if you have a lot coming ready, simply twist out whole clumps.

For intersown radish between carrot and parsnip, easing them up carefully does not disturb the surrounding seedlings, as shown in the photos above. The carrots and parsnips look a little straggly for a while, then grow strongly.

When to pick and how often

Red globe radish lose moisture rapidly after harvest, so you may be harvesting every day or two, for the juiciest roots.

Winter radish are more solid in texture and keep well after picking, like turnips, so you can harvest them ahead of eating.


Root vegetables lose moisture through the leaves immediately after harvest, so twist off leaves as soon as you have picked the radish, give them a rinse in cold water and they are good to eat for two or three days, just kept in a bowl.

For winter radish, keep them cool – they can stand a little freezing. In a box in the shed, they can store for two to three months.

Saving seed

As long as there are no other flowering brassicas nearby, this is not too difficult. Flowering is in early summer. Seed pods are also edible when green, sometimes called 'rats’ tails'.

Have six or up to ten of the best quality radish, growing quite close to each other; put a stake in the ground nearby and tie their flowering stems to the stick. Once seed pods are mostly dry, pull all plants and hang them upside down in a ventilated place, under cover. Later you can rub out the seeds at your leisure.

Potential problems


Spring radish leaves are manna from heaven for flea beetles, which feast on small and tender leaves. Hence my recommendation to cover, using fleece on early plantings to also increase warmth. Then use mesh covers on later plantings.

Another common pest is cabbage root fly, especially by late spring – it can ruin whole sowings. The little maggots tunnel into radish roots and quickly cause enough rotting to spoil your chances of a decent meal. Once again, covers are the answer, and sowing early helps so that harvests happen before the flies are too common. More flies hatch in early autumn, when mesh covers may also be needed.

Slugs chomp into radish roots. As usual, I recommend having minimum slug habitat nearby, no old and rotting wood for example. Plus no dig reduces slug population through better soil structure and the presence of more slug predators.

A hole recently chomped – this is typical slug damage to radish, but most were undamaged
31st October – typical flea beetle holes in the leaves, although the damage is not serious; these Rudi radish were multisown 54 days earlier and planted after celery
A Small Garden harvest shows flea beetle damage to radish roots in mid-May, after they had grown unprotected for the last month

And finally


After a final harvest of spring-sown radish, there are often a few tiny or misshapen radish to remove, together with a few weeds. Then rake lightly to level the ground and you are ready to transplant or sow again.

After winter harvests, spread compost as soon as the ground is clear.

Early April – the last harvest is now approaching for this leaf radish; it has been picked for leaves all winter and is now growing edible flower buds

Follow with

This depends on the date of final harvest, and you can transplant any vegetable which is in its right season – see my sowing timeline. I do not worry about rotation before or after radish, because they are in the ground for such a short time.

Even winter radish, which may be in the soil for three to four months at the end of a season, can be followed by brassicas in the spring if that is what you want to grow there.