The Story of a Seed: Tokyo Market Turnip
Every seed tells a story! In this blog series, we explore the in depth story from seed to pack to art for our new art pack varieties. Get to know the speedy, crunchy roots of Tokyo Market - tiny turnips so sweet, they are fit for a standalone snack:
What Makes Tokyo Market Turnip Stand Out: Like all good heroes of Japanese animation, the Tokyo Market Turnip deftly maneuvers through strange and sometimes hostile conditions. Frost barely out of the ground? No problem! Need greens for eating in less than a month? You got it! Want a root crop for the winter that you can sow after Labor Day? Koko ni arimasu! The roots remain tender, sweet, and delicious despite these challenges, resulting in the proliferation of a fandom that is sure to keep on growing. Plus, most market turnips are hybrids, but this one happens to be open-pollinated, which is what we are all about!
The History of Tokyo Market Turnip: Turnips, members of the prolific Brassica family, are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Their fast-growing habits, long winter shelf life, and ability to grow in a wide range of temperatures has made them an indispensable vegetable in many cultures for hundreds of years and counting. Their first recorded use dates back to Europe around 2000 BC. In 16th century northern Europe, images of turnips were displayed on the coat of arms of several noble families. Turnips first traveled to Japan about 1,200 years ago, where they steadily grew a following as dedicated seed selection helped them adapt to their new environs and grow stronger with each generation. However, most Japanese turnips prized today, like our beloved Tokyo Market Turnip, are newer heirlooms. They first became popular in the 1950s, when the famine brought on by World War II made their fast growing habit and ability to withstand a wide spectrum of temperatures particularly valuable. The Japanese name for this group of sweet, quick growing, white turnips like Tokyo Market is Kabura.
Aside from the delicious roots, Japanese turnips are also used to grow another cold-weather vegetable delicacy: Yukina. As explained by the Tokyo Foundation, Yukina is a traditional Japanese food, produced by transplanting the turnips at the end of fall, “after they have developed flower stalks, and later, the thick white spears nourished by the old leaves under cover of snow are harvested for consumption. Vegetables that have grown white in the snow due to lack of sunlight are called nanpaku yasai, or blanched (etiolated) vegetables.”
How to Grow, Harvest, and Eat: Tokyo Market Turnips can be direct sown all season! They will tolerate light frosts and summer heat (keep them well watered though). Cover with row cover if your garden has a flea beetle issue. The delicate sweet roots are ready to harvest in as little as four weeks. Harvest when they are at a two-bite size: about two inches in diameter. Tokyo Market Turnips will make you rethink everything you’ve ever thought about turnips as they are excellent fresh from the garden, on their own, as a snack. Of course, they are also great on toast with salt and lemon, pickled, steamed, grilled, roasted, and mashed. Their young green tops make excellent sauté greens.
About the Art and Artist: Will Sweeney created a Miyazaki inspired market scene to illustrate our Tokyo Market Turnip pack. Will has been drawing storyboards for animated cartoons for 15 years and recently illustrated his first graphic novel, Le Morte D’Arthur. We love how Will’s bold graphics animate the stories of our seeds, so much so that not only is this the third seed pack for the Hudson Valley Seed Company (see another one here), but he also inspired our 2017 staff holiday card.