Join the Zoo and Turnip the Competition

The Virginia Zoo and Gunston Hall are taking part in a “Sprout Bout” — a turnip-growing competition. Over the next two months, the cultural institutions will see who can grow the largest turnip and will track their progress on Instagram with #sproutbout. The public is encouraged to follow along and join by planting their own turnips at home.

Turnips are fast, easy growing, and an underrated vegetable! They often outcompete weeds and their deep roots help loosen and aerate the soil. During the colonial era, turnips were a reliable storage crop that proved tasty well into the winter. Today, Gunston Hall is using turnips to condition the soil of their newly restored riverside garden. Turnips are grown at the Zoo for the animals, as a supplement to their diet or enrichment items. The two horticulture teams think this “Sprout Bout” is a fun way to test their abilities to grow the vegetable in slightly different climates.

“I’m excited for this new partnership that creates a unique learning experience for the public,” said Brian Francis, Curator of Horticulture at the Virginia Zoo. “In times like these, we need reasons to step away from the screen and this gives your green thumb an opportunity to grow,” Francis added.

“I am excited to be partnering with the Virginia Zoo. This project highlights what our forebearers knew about turnips. It was clear even in the 1700s that turnips were really reliable and versatile–they could feed people, animals, and restore soils,” said Ryan Dostal, the horticulturist of Gunston Hall. “I just hope our soils are up to the challenge. I saw what the Virginia Zoo grew in 2019, five pounds and nine ounces is impressive–we’ve got our work cut out for us,” he added.

Instructions on planting turnips can be found at