A Turnip Winter

A few years ago I helped my father in law plant his fall garden.  I didn’t mind helping him because he has always been real good to me, and I enjoy working in a garden.  As a matter of fact, my dream is to one day have a small self-reliant farm, so I love learning about gardening and how people lived in the past.  My father in law knows I love history, so he decides to tell me about all the virtues of the humble turnip.  

I already knew a lot about turnips, but I patiently listened, like a good son-in-law, to see if I could learn anything new.  First of all, he told me turnips are a cold tolerant plant.  I bite my tongue, and I did not say “duh.”  He also said that deer love eating turnips.  I already knew this too, but I continued listening.  Next, he told me that the greens can be cut from the top of the turnip and they will grow back.  Turnip greens and cornbread are not my favorite, but I have had worse.  Finally, he told me people have survived times of food shortage by eating turnips.  He said it is called a “turnip winter.”  I had never heard of this, so I had to investigate this claim.  

Turnip Winter

A quick Google search of “turnip winter” led me to World War I.  During World War I, the German people faced severe food shortages.  The British naval blockade prevented supplies, including food, from entering Germany.   During World War I, Germany had several years of very poor weather, so there was less grain produced.  The blockade and weather caused food shortages.  The German government tried to fix this problem by instituting a food rationing campaign and by encouraging citizens to make bread out of potatoes.  

In 1916, a rainy fall followed by an extremely cold winter turned the food shortage into a crisis.  The rain caused potatoes to rot in the ground, and the extreme cold led to shortages in coal.  Because of the coal shortages, the railroad industry struggled getting the meager potato crop to the cities, so much of the harvested potatoes were rotten before they ever got to market.  Since the turnip is a good cold weather crop, the German government decided the best way to replace the lost potato harvest was with turnips.  

The German government encouraged its citizens to use turnips the same way they used potatoes.  Unfortunately, turnips did not make a great substitute for potatoes, so German civilians suffered greatly during the winter of 1916-1917.  Malnourishment was wide-spread and starvation was not uncommon during the “Turnip Winter.”  


Preppers can learn a lot from the “Turnip Winter.”  First of all, war and/or natural disaster can lead to food shortages, so everyone should be stockpiling food and seeds for emergencies.  Next, do not put all of your eggs into one basket.  The government may take your stockpile of food, or fire may destroy your home, so it is prudent to diversify your preparations.  Not only should people stockpile food, they should also stockpile seeds.   Finally, diversify your food.  Eating the same food everyday can cause food to become unpalatable and worse lead to vitamin deficiencies.   Hopefully, Americans never suffer through a turnip winter, but wise people are preparing for hard times.      

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