Survival Gardening,
And The List Of
Very Special Survival Vegetables

Dateline: 15 June 2015

Frank & Fern recently posted a blog titled Survival Gardening Scenario, in which they asked readers what they would plant and grow in their gardens now if they had evidence that a significant food-supply-disrupting crisis was coming this fall.

That question brought to mind the book pictured above, which I've had for several years, and it just happened to be on my bedside table.

Survival Gardening, by John A. Freeman was published in 1982 and is now out of print. It is subtitled: "Enough Nutrition From 1,000 Square Feet To Live On... Just In Case!" 

The book is available on Ebay, but I'm not sure I would go so far as to recommend it to everyone. If you're a hard-core garden book collector, or prepper type, and you've got the money to spare, then get it. Otherwise, just read and absorb the following information...

The most interesting part of the book for me is the list of "Very Special Survival Vegetables." They are as follows...

Beans, lima
Beans, snap
Beets with greens
Peas (various)
Potato, Irish
Sweet potato
Turnips with greens

These vegetables are listed in a chart showing the "relative caloric and nutritive yields" with columns for calories, protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

According to the chart, the most highly rated (by far) vegetable in all the categories is... turnips with greens.

Another chart in the book (there are lots of charts) gives specific caloric and nutritive numbers for various vegetables, and turnips with greens clearly are a very special survival vegetable.

According to another chart, turnips take 6 to 9 weeks to get from seed to harvestable size, and they can be harvested over a four-week span of time. Which means, there is still time to get them planted this year.

I'm wondering if any readers of this blog have a history of growing turnips (I don't). If so, can you share information and experiences about growing, cooking and preserving this humble root crop?

Turnips with greens


Frank and Fern said...

Herrick, we have grown turnips for two years now. I even planted a spring crop this year, not really expecting turnips since our summers are so hot, but for the greens. They are very hardy, easy to grow and taste good if you learn a few tricks.

I told Frank this spring that I have finally learned some secrets to fixing turnip greens. Pick smaller leaves, they are more tender and haven't had time to get strong or bitter. We cook them in a small amount of salted water with a spoonful of bacon or sausage grease. They are served with the juice, which we drink for the nutrients.

When fixing the turnip to eat, peel down past the outer line of the 'peel' to remove the bitter taste. At first, we thought all turnips were bitter until a reader left a comment on a post last fall. It makes a world of difference. Turnips are very, very versatile and can be cooked many ways and included in many dishes.

There are several articles on our blog about our discovery of turnips if anyone wants more detailed information and pictures, like one on how to peel off the bitterness.

Herrick, thank you very much for the link to our current article. The comments we have received have given us much 'food for thought'.


Anonymous said...

grew Rutabagas last year they look like a smaller version of turnip to me..the were very bitter so I may have done something wrong....the ones in the store taste pleasant.The deer enjoyed eating the row I left in the garden all winter.

deborah harvey said...

hi. what is a 'butterpea'?
it is possible the rutabagas may have been less bitter after a frost?
i always ate the outside of the turnip first [raw] and had the sweet inside for 'dessert'. i think they are better raw.

SharonR said...

Turnips? O my, yes. Everyone and his brother grows turnips in every place I've lived - about 15 towns in four states -- Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.
My college home-ec teacher told a story of going "up North" and buying turnips, with the greens still on them. When she got to the check-out counter, the cashier ripped the tops off and threw them away. I think we all gasped when she got to that part. She said she let that li'l cashier know in a hurry to retrieve those greens! Poor girl didn't know they were edible. We learn something new every day. :-)
Many people grow them as a winter crop. When the weather gets very cold, you just cover them up with leaves or some such cover and harvest them straight from the garden all season. A great crop - The roots are sweet raw but a little bitter when you cook them, and deceptively too much of a mashed potatoes look-alike, but when made with brown sugar, they are palatable. What tastes best are the greens. Now that I have those grown-up taste buds, I like the bitter cooked root, even without the sugar. :-)

SharonR said...

Hello again.
Actually, in the picture, the greens on the left look like collards or maybe bok choy. I see they are still attached to the root. Turnip greens have little tiny prickles that cook out, but you do feel them when picking. They don't cut or resemble thorns in feel, they are just slightly prickly.
I like the list. I notice there are no summery vegetables with brief shelf life in this particular list. This is all about survival, so the vegetable had to pass the storage qualification to make the list I suppose.

Fabric Fanatic said...

Herrick, thanks for all the good blog posts. I can attest to turnip preparation as I am one who has hated them since I was Futureman's size until I was 65. Then, someone served roasted root vegetables as a side on Thanksgiving and I had 2 helpings (not unusual as I am a big girl), and I commented "how wonderful!". When I found out I'd been swooning over turnips, you could have knocked me over with a feather (remember, I'm a big girl so that would be something). Now it is the only way I prepare them and I eat them regularly. I buy them small in size and don't do anything other than wash them, cut off the ends, quarter them, toss with olive oil,and bake in the oven in a foil lined (greased foil) pan sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. 400 degrees until fork tender. 45-60 minutes. If cooking with other root vegetables, cut them all to approximately the same size (I also add halved brussels sprouts to the mix..yum!).

Anonymous said...

I love them peeled, cubed, and then roasted in the oven with a light coat or spray of cooking oil. Then sprinkle with a little salt. MMMM....Boy! You can do the same with rutabagas. I will mix the two at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Turnips the wonder food! For the greens,,, helps to not let them get too big, like anything else younger/tender/better. The roots, we love them. If young and smaller peel and eat raw with salt. As they grow, peel, quarter, boil, drain well then mash them adding salt pepper & sugar to taste. An old lady told me about the sugar, makes all the difference. Try a teaspoon of sugar add more if you like.

mobius wolf said...

I have some turnip seeds here somewhere and room still, I think. I believe I'll take your advice.

Someone told me that wood chips/chainsaw dust sucks nitrogen out of the soil for a month before they reverse and start to compost, releasing it. I'm not sure if this is true but it seems to me it would be an easy way (more or less) to add a little nitro.

Do you know about this or have any thoughts? I'd like to verify it.

I'm new to the blog and enjoying it so far.

in Maine

Anonymous said...

Hi Herrick, In my opinion turnips do best as a fall crop. They will thrive in the cool fall weather and you won't have to worry about root maggots eating the roots or flea beetles eating the leaves like you do in the spring. I generally broadcast my turnip seed in early August. I usually plant them in the spot where the early corn was planted. Once the corn is done, I till the soil and plant the turnips. The seed can be raked in lightly to help with germination, but they will still germinate without it as long as their is enough moisture in the soil. My aunt used to mix some turnip seed in with her winter rye seed when planting a fall cover crop. The turnips could be eaten through out the fall and the rye provided a green manure crop for the spring.
John in CT

vdeal said...

Well Herrick, you've gotten quite the crop of responses on turnips. I grow the Hakurei turnips for Johnny's Seeds and they do quite well and grow fast in the spring. My mother-in-law likes them so she gets most of them but we usually cook up a mess. Never ate the greens. I have canned them. I shall try roasting them as that seems to be popular for root vegetables. Rutabagas are different and are better after a frost (just like parsnips). If you can find them get a pack of Gilfeather turnips (they're really a rutabaga) - famous in the slow food circle.

Anonymous said...

I agree with SharonR the greens on the left are collards. If you look closely at the greens attached to the turnips,they look much different, almost ruffled but that may not be the right word. Easy to grow but mostly grown in the fall here in the south, not sure if that is true for the north. They are certainly delicious as well as healthy.~ Miss Georgia

Anonymous said...

My kids hate the smell of greens cooking, so we put a pecan in the shell in the pot while they are cooing. it helps. I like the flavor of collards or Florida broad leaf mustard better than Turnip greens.

vdeal said...

I cook collards with salt water and a ham hock. Just started last year and this year's collards are just about ready.

Herrick Kimball said...

Wow, such excellent responses! Lots of very good perspective and useful information.

You have a good eye for greens, Sharon.

I'm ordering turnip seed this week for planting in August, and looking forward to it.

Fred in Maine— I think there are differing opinions about wood chips and nitrogen robbing. Garden writer Lee Reich uses wood chips a lot (on top of the soil) and says they are no problem. I think Ramial chips are different than wood chips and sawdust when it comes to the nitrogen thing. But I'm no expert on the subject. I would Google it if I were you. :-)

mobius wolf said...

I've been composting them with the chicken poop and as much field green as I can scythe.
It's basically clay up here, below an inch or two so creating soil is crucial.

I'm torn between composting them or using them as mulch. I may experiment a little.
I have access to the dust from the slicing of 30 chords this year and I hope to make the most of it.

Planning on googling it. :o) As a tyro, I'm basically googling every step, but some things slip through the cracks and many results are not definitive, as I'm sure you know.

"Nitrogen robbing" as a search term is helpful. Thanks


SharonR said...

Ooh! Thanks, Fabric Fanatic for the turnip cooking hint! When we were kids, the adults warned us that eating raw turnips would give us worms. I don't know where they got that information, but they all said it. So we had to at least "try" those cooked turnips. They looks so good - like potatoes, but the bitter taste was more than our syrup-lovin' kid's tongues could take. This roasted way may have been the answer for us. If only our mothers had known! :-)
Mobius Wolf, you scythe? I have a scythe, used it once and sliced my finger first thing. I need to keep it get back to it. Such a better way to get the tall weeds down than that noisy smelly, (and probably even more dangerous) ol' weed eater. It even works on short grass, if I'm understanding it correctly.

mobius wolf said...

The scythe is the best thing I ever bought for composting. I started with a bag mower but I'm trying to build as much bed as I have sunny space for (about 2500 sq ft so far) and bagging it was very slow and you leave a lot on the ground (small pieces). The scythe lays it all down, easy to collect and you miss very little.

I got it here:
They make the handle(?) to fit you and have a large selection of Austrian blades (which is the way to go). The kit come with a peening jig, which is crucial and a book (The Scythe Book, David Tresemer), also crucial :o) and a whetstone. Everything you need

Mine looks like this:

The scythe is faster than a lawn mower and doesn't actually require much muscle. Speed and technique, not power, is key. Mine is developing (lol) but even with my ragged cuts I get exponentially more mulch, the gathering of which is where the muscle comes in. The same little field that used to produce 4 or 5 bags of clippings will fill my truck bed. Of course I let it go longer first.

The edge curls up (if you are sharpening it correctly) so you can slide it right along the ground and basically, scalp it if you wish. So yes, you can cut short grass. Making it even requires technique I have yet to develop. :o(

The other benefit is it will cut anything, no matter how tall. Oh yeah. I should have bought the brush blade. It's shorter and stiffer and wouldn't be so susceptible to nicks from woody stems, but my medium does pretty well if I'm careful.
I got this one: #1565T TOPS Blade - 26"/65cm $65.00

The Austrian scythe is much different than the old American style. THe Austrian is hammered steel, very thin and under tension. Think of the blade of the old safety razors, with a slight curl. American scythes are thicker, more like machete steel and are brute force blades. Very hard to keep an edge on (I have one of them too) and no curl to the edge so very easy to dull on surface detritus.

Happy slicing

mobius wolf said...

Snath! THe handle is called a snath. :o)

mobius wolf said...

Key info on sawdust IMO:


Branches under 7 cm in diameter, without their leaves, are the best choice for shredding. In the North-American species, essential plant nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, Mg) increase when branch diameter decreases. These concentrations reach a minimum in branches over 7 cm in diameter, so branches having less than 7 cm in diameter contain 75% fertilizing nutrients. The bigger the branches the less digestible they become. If sawdust, issued from tree trunks, is mixed with the soil, nitrogen will starve unless the sawdust is composted with farm manure. The trunk of the tree supports the branches which are the real biological center for wood production. The trunk is «dead» and does not allow lignin to be used by enzymes from microflora and fauna to integrate into the soil. For the forest, the «dead» trunk is «garbage», attacked from the outside, and transformed in CO2 with very little benefit to the soil.

Anonymous said...

There is a variety of turnip called "Stielmuß" (that's a German double s), grown more for the leaves than the root. But I have found both tops and bottoms to taste a lot better than the summer turnips that I used to grow. We also call "rutabagas and swedes" by the name "turnip". I love them best of all. Better after a frost, unfortunately quite often they get pretty maggoty, though.

vdeal said...

To clarify from Wikipedia; The turnip or white turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) is a root vegetable commonly grown in temperate climates worldwide for its white, bulbous taproot. The rutabaga, swede (from Swedish turnip), turnip, yellow turnip, or neep (Brassica napobrassica, or Brassica napus var. napobrassica, or Brassica napus subsp. rapifera) is a root vegetable that may have originated as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. While related, turnips and rutabagas are definitely different plants but the brassica family has been crossed and recrossed over the centuries so it's no wonder the names have been confused.

Anonymous said...

Granny Gardiner From Alaska: we LOVE turnips and rutabagas. I put wood ashes around them while they are growing, and on the leaves too, all summer long, all 90 days of it, and get roots without root maggots. The rutabaga greens are much more wonderful to eat.... sort of "meaty" and a nicer texture than prickly turnip greens. They will both dry well after slicing 1/4" thick and blanching for a couple of minutes, and rehydrate very well, and go into our stews and soups! Dry the greens to, for green powder to be added to juices, soups,and as seasoning!

Sheila Gilbert said...

As soon as I opened your post and saw the book, and before I even read your post, I went right to Amazon and got the book! Thank you! I got the cheapest one too!
My survival crops are a little different. I will be growing Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, carrots, onions, garlic, lima beans, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, and many more. Right now I'm learning how to grow what is called TPS. It stands for True Potato Seed. You grow the potato from the actual potato seeds that come from what is called a potato bud, potato ball, or potato berry. It sometimes grows from potato plants when they flower. There are usually about 300 seeds in it, and you can grow potatoes with them. Of course they are not grown the same as seed potato's, but I am learning. I want to have the actual seeds if there is going to be a problem with the food supply. They have been known to grow after being stored for 50 years! Right now you can't get them, because most seed potato's don't grow berries anymore. I get mine from a breeder who only offers them about once a year. One of my other project goals is to, each year, find something new and unusual that will grow in my area, and see how it does in my garden. It has to produce lots of seeds, and be very productive. I have also already started a bed of Egyptian Walking Onions, that will continue to reproduce each year on their own, and should never have to be replaced. That way, I will always have them, even if seeds or sets are not available. Last, I have never grown, or eaten soy beans, however I have some Heirloom soybeans and will grow them for their ability to produce a very large crop in case I need one, and to find out if I even like them. I also have a recipe for them that lets me make "hamburgers" out of them, that a lot of my friends have made, and swear that they taste just like hamburgers, so I'm working on that too. Another point is, survival gardens without the means to store and protect them is a waste. I can, dehydrate, or freeze all that I produce, and have backups for using the "machines" to prepare them if we have no power. One very important issue to me is, that I found that no matter how hungry, you won't eat, what you don't like. A study back when the depression was on, showed that many, because of physical depression, could not, or would not, eat if they did not like the food. I found that to be very interesting. If under pressure that does happen, so I try to make sure that the foods I make, is what everyone already likes. We try new things all the time. So, I guess my very next test is Turnips!!! Bless, Sheila

mobius wolf said...

That's very interesting about the potato seeds. Thanks Sheila.
We rely primarily on the freezer, and that worries me. We do have a dehydrator, but they are very slow, more of a hobby set-up. I haven't managed to get conditions just right in my root cellar efforts.

Anonymous said...

we grow and freeze turnip greens every year. Bring the greens to a boil and let boil 2-3 minutes drain the water off, and fresh water finish cooking this will help with the bitterness.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
we grow and freeze turnip greens every year. Bring the greens to a boil and let boil 2-3 minutes drain the water off, add fresh water finish cooking this will help with the bitterness.


John D. Wheeler said...

Don't know much about turnips, but I love the variety Seven Top turnip greens. It specifically does not produce a root, and I think it is one of the tastiest winter greens around. And as far as timing goes, I will frequently plant it after my summer crops are done, around the first fall frost if it's not too late.

Herrick Kimball said...

Well, this blog post, with comments, is clearly the go-to place for information about turnips.

Thank you, John D. Wheeler for the tip about Seven Top turnip greens. I Googled them and others say the same about good flavor. I've just ordered seed.

Chris said...

I'm surprised Daikon Radish didn't make it onto the list. As it grows fast, hardy, is milder than a regular radish, you can sprout the seeds to make micro-greens and is somewhat of a super food, medicinally.

I planted some in my garden this year and they are growing really well.

I personally love roasted turnip. You can also slice them thinly with a mandolin slicer (along with some potato) layer them all with some skirt or chuck steak, also sliced thinly. Season generously with salt and pepper as you're layering. Now you can cook it in a pastry parcel, like a pastie, or just in a baking pan on its own. You can grate cheese on top with a sprinkle of paprika if doing the latter. I'm a pepper freak (as in the peppercorn variety) so I really love to add lots.

Anonymous said...

We called butterpeas butterbeans. They are shaped like a Lima bean but larger and yellow.
We've grown a large patch of turnips to use for animal feed by broadcasting the seed. The seeds are small and I think every one came up.
The cows weren't interested at first so we sold a bunch to a local market.
After the grass was gone the cows couldn't wait to get at them. Can also cook the turnips and feed to pigs.
We planted in the fall so just left them in the ground. This time I would harvest a lot and store them.

lauraw said...

Turnips have been transformed into a delectable Summer vegetable by the Japanese, who developed different, quick-maturing strains when food was short post-WWII.

Johnny's Seeds' 'Hakurei' is the best thing I have discovered recently. Matures in roughly 45 days but holds well in the row in Fall. You can do overlapping crops of it all Summer long. You can even plant them too close; they will shoulder each other around in the row, and also mature at different rates so you can pick one row for quite a while, thinning and making room for the stragglers. Utterly delightful veggie garden item. Unfortunately however it is not a good keeper for the root cellar.

I either slice it raw into salads like a radish, or saute thick chunks in a little olive oil and garlic until slightly browned at the edges. When cooked it is nutty and fine, sort of a cross between potato and cabbage in texture and flavor.

Sometimes I cook the greens with the flesh, but even though they tend to be young they need to be softened up a bit in advance of the flash-cooking root. I give the greens a little head start by steaming first under cover in a little water and a sprinkle of salt.

I tried the 'Shogoin' variety offered from Baker Creek last year but it bolted before bulbing up. That strain either needs to be a Fall crop, or my weather just didn't favor it that time.

lauraw said...

OH, and they're small, the Japanese turnips. You pick them when they're around golf ball size. They can be catch-cropped in the little odd spaces around lots of other growing crops and present little competition.

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

Wow! I gleaned so much info off these blog comments! Thanks for starting something good, Herrick!

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

I certainly hope Sheila Gilbert will tell us later how her Egyptian Walking onions, and her potato berry seeds turn out. These are things I've never heard of and may try myself. I have read online that the potato berry seed will never produce a good crop, and will not be as good as the parent plant. I would like to find out more, such as, when do you harvest the berry seeds? What is a good source for the walking onion? One place said the Yukon potato will produce the most berries.

Sheila Gilbert said...

You can read all about the Egyptian Onions here

These are not your standard onions, they don't get real big, however everyone that try's them, likes them. I put mine in last fall, and they did fantastic, and it wasn't the slightest bit warm yet, and they started to grow in early spring.
You can see how they grow, here. It is true, if you like them, you will never need to grow onions again.

Hope this helps, Oh.... and as far as the potato berries and growing them, it is way too much for me to explain, but when I find a few of the saved pages I have, I will post them somewhere that everyone can read. Bless all, Sheila
PS I could not survive well without onions or garlic!!!

Sheila Gilbert said...

This gives you a better idea about how they grow.

They are Perennial onions, they seed themselves with sets from the top, and also can be grown from the bottom roots too. Your choice. You have to read the site to understand how to use them. Bless, Sheila