Friday, February 13, 2015

Planting Oats and Turnips

I've planted oats numerous times in the garden as a cover crop and it always seemed like they were pretty easy to grow.  In the garden, I could just buy a bag of cheap feed oats, broadcast them willy-nilly all over the garden, run the tiller over them real quick, and they'd grow like nobody's business. 

Based on that experience in the garden, three years ago I planted about 35 acres of oats into some grain sorghum stubble in late-February.  I was planning on baling a bunch of hay, or if I really lucked out, I was going to harvest part of the field for either grain or as seed.  I did almost everything right, bought some actual seed oats, had good soil moisture, didn't have any weed issues in the field, and used the drill to plant them.  From what I'd read, oats didn't need a lot of added fertility to get a good grain yield, where supposed to be relatively disease resistant, and made halfway decent hay.

That field of oats was a complete failure, they only grew about a foot tall, and most of it had a rust problem. I still don't know what exactly went wrong, but it was unusually hot and dry that spring (it was the beginning of the 2012 drought ) which might have been a major factor.  It was so short that I didn't even try baling any of it and just turned the cattle out on it to get a little bit of grazing.  

I haven't had a chance to try growing oats again since that failure, but decided to plant a small part of the field that I planted to sorghum-sudangrass last summer and grazed this winter, so I can figure out how to grow oats since they would fit in well with my long term plans for the farm with growing cover crops, grazing cattle and stockers, finding crop rotations to go along with no-till, and planting wildlife food plots for the deer and turkeys.     

After that long winded explanation, I have about 80-90 days before I'll plant this field to grain sorghum, so I have a window to try planting some oats as a cover crop or hay crop.  Until I'm sure I can reliably grow oats (or anything else that I haven't grown before) I've decided that I'm going to start smaller, so I planted a little over three acres with about 60 lb. of oats and 1 lb. of turnips per acre.

It's pretty difficult to get edge-of-your-seat photos of some guy no-tilling some oats into some sorghum-sudangrass stubble, but I managed to get two photos that sort of show what a no-tilled field of oats and turnips looks like before anything has started growing. It is a little interesting how weed-free and mellow the soil is after cattle have grazed this field of sorghum-sudangrass this winter. 

Hopefully, in a month or so I can give everyone that comes out to the farm a bushel basket full of turnips to take home with them, and the earthworms will be chowing down on the turnips that are still left in the field.  If everything goes right, I might have to hunt through some knee-deep oats to find some turnips for whoever shows up wanting some.  I'm not a real big fan of turnips, so take as many as you want. 


  1. I discovered that I really like pureed turnip soup. I throw a couple of potatoes in with it, and it seems to cut all the bitterness out. I have less of a texture problem with it being in a creamy pureed form with some crackers.

    You reminded me that I've got a pail of oat seed I should really broadcast this year...

    1. The only problem I have with turnips is that I ate some as a kid right before I got really, really sick, so that "don't-eat-stuff-that-might-kill-you" part of my brain seems to associate eating turnips with getting sick. I've grown some nice looking turnips in the garden before, but I just can't get too excited about eating them.

      Despite that, I'm planning on planting some turnips in the garden to see if I can get myself to eat some this year, so stay tuned for exciting news about whether Rich can choke down a turnip.

      Oats are a great cover crop, they're supposed to have a bigger, deeper root system than winter wheat and supposedly have some allopathic properties against some weeds, which is one reason they would fit into the farm as a rotation/cover crop if I can figure out how to grow them.

    2. I've tried turnips many different ways, and the only way I could honestly say that I looked forward to was pureed. With some black pepper, dried onion, and a bit of jalepeno, cooked in stock with a couple of potatoes, including the greens... and then pureed... sheesh, now I'm craving the stuff...

      I've noticed that I don't seem to have too many weeds when I've grown a thick stand of oats in the past... maybe due to those allopathic properties...

  2. I can probably count the number of times I've eaten a turnip on one hand. Once raw and a few times pickled and that is just about it. They seem to be a generational crop of yesteryear and current generations don't plant them, except for my neighbors that did it as a cover crop a couple years back. I need to look at our local seed store to see if they even carry turnip seeds. I'm guessing they do but not very many.

    1. I've only seen the small packets a few times. When I bought mine, I found the seed at a local farm store, by the pound. I think some use it for winter grazing. Also, I believe it is used for deer food plots.

      In any case, for $1.75 I bought 1 pound of seed, and that is a heck of a lot of turnips... heh heh

    2. I should also mention that one of the things I love about growing turnips is that I find them far easier and less problematic than any other brassica. Broccoli goes from tiny to flowering way too fast, cauliflower form heads right about the time the summer heat smokes them, cabbage gets infested with the white grubs unless I spray it... but turnips just grow and grow, and I have not had any real pest problems or growing issues with them. I've planted them way too late, maybe too early... and for the four or five years I've grown them they always seem to pull through and give me a decent crop. And then they just patiently sit out there for me to harvest at my leisure.

      So... I've been determined to figure out how to like them, since they grow so nice for me. I've always found the flavor to be earthy and appealing, although sometimes pretty bitter, and the texture has not made me very excited... but pureed, I like them a lot, and have pretty much given up on growing the other brassicas in favor of turnips.

    3. My local feed store (the type of feed store that sells feed by the ton to farming/ranching types) sells a lot of different cover crop seeds (clovers, oats, turnips, tillage radishes, etc.) and I bought a 5 lb. bag of turnip seed for about $15, and a 50 lb. bag was around $90.

      If you wanted to plant some in the garden, I see the little seed packets of turnip seed all the time at places like Walmart, Lowes. or Home Depot. Of course, it's possible that turnip seed being sold at the big box stores is still a regional sort of thing.

      I've never tried it, but supposedly turnips planted in the fall and eaten in early winter are supposed to be sweeter than turnips planted in the spring and eaten in early summer. And, turnips grown in a good rich, loamy soil are also supposed to be less harsh in flavor (i.e. "sweet" soil equals sweet turnips).

      With all this talk about turnips, I guess I'm going to have to plant a few in the garden to see if I can somehow get to the point where I can eat them.

  3. I wonder how much difference there is between bulk turnips for cover crops and garden turnips that you mostly consume?

    1. The turnips I planted were Purple Top Turnips although there are some different varieties of turnips grown for cover crops and/or grazing like Appen turnips, but I would think that a 50 lb bag of Purple Top Turnips would be basically the same as a 1 oz. seed packet of Purple Top Turnips.

      When I was a little kid, there used to be a handful of alfalfa fields up around the farm (I'm not sure why there aren't that many anymore) and every time those fields were planted they'd mix in some turnip seed with the alfalfa seed and it was common for people to go into the field and pull some turnips to eat.

      I wasn't paying enough attention at the time so I don't know if there was an agronomic reason for planting the turnips with the alfalfa (similar to a cover crop mix), or if it was something traditional in the local culture (like helping to provide some food to the community or the needy, etc.). I never thought to ask until there wasn't anyone around to ask that might know the answer.

      But, I do know that those alfalfa field turnips were edible and were like the ones I grew in the garden decades later.

    2. The ones I grew were also purple top variety, I believe.

      10" or so of snow here today... guess it's a good time to plant peppers and tomatoes...

    3. It was 79 degrees on Saturday, and this morning it was 22 degrees, we had a thick layer of ice, and a couple of inches of snow.

      The snow and cold isn't so bad, it's the hot then the cold then the hot then the cold that bugs me.