We can always do with a bit more iron, magnesium and vitamin C and where better to get it than from homegrown spinach. These delicious leafy greens can be planted all year round and are reasonably quick to mature. Spend a few productive moments outdoors now and you’ll have a batch of lush greens well on their way to harvest in about 7 weeks.
Spinach is a good source of vitamin C when raw – say used as young leaves in a salad. When cooked, most of the Vit C goes up in steam. The fibre content will remain high even when cooked – so for fibre fans it works to cook the spinach you eat because when it collapses you can eat more volume in one sitting.
Companions Beans, peas, sweet corn, strawberry.
Quantity 1 plant per person.
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New Zealand spinach an unusual heirloom variety with succulent triangular shaped leaves. It is very handy in warmer gardens where it can tolerate the hotter summer months without bolting and going to seed. It is not frost hardy.
Bloomsdale heirloom variety with thick, wide, crumpled leaves. Good winter crop as it withstands winter cold.
Winter Giant heirloom variety with large, arrow-shaped leaves. Heavy cropper. Sow every month for continuous harvest.
Beet Perpetual Spinach heirloom variety that is a beet and not a spinach. However it is grown and used as a spinach and will last up to a couple of years. Pick leaves when young and tender.
Summer spinach varieties can be sown from September through to April and winter varieties are generally sown from April through to August. Use polythene cloches to protect plants during winter in particularly cold parts of the country.
Spinach thrives in full sun as well as in parts of the garden that get a bit of shade through the day.
Spinach can grow in open ground (ie. big bed), raised bed or container. Ensure your soil has been well-composted. Leaves like these love plenty of nitrogen (the key nutrient for leafy plants). If you can, plant spinach where you previously grew peas or beans (these handy plants fix nitrogen back into the soil). Alternatively add something nitrogen-rich like well-rotted horse manure, sheep pellets or chopped up seaweed.
If your garden has free-draining soil that is not too water-logged then dig well to a depth of about one spade blade to loosen things up, mix in compost and allow a good root run for these gross feeders to gain their nutrients from the soil. If you are on sticky clay then raised beds or container planting are the best options for creating a productive growing medium that will see plants like spinach thrive.
Make a shallow trench along your row - around half your forefinger deep and sow seeds at finger length spacings. Your rows want to be about a foot – as in your foot or 12 inches (which ever comes first) – apart. This helps to ensure good airflow between plants.
Soon enough you’ll see tiny seedlings appear and begin to develop proper leaves.
In winter - when its really wet - and early spring when slugs are at their most ravenous it can help if you sow seeds in punnets and trays filled with potting mix and then transplant seedlings once they have more than two leaves and are about a thumb’s length in height.
When seedlings are about half a finger high, thin out the rows by lifting alternate plants and carefully transplanting these thinnings to a new row (no waste here and these thinned seedlings should come away and grow into spinach plants providing you do this carefully and on a cool and cloudy day. Too much sun and these fledging plants might wilt and give up). I like to use an ice-block stick to lift the thinnings out of the soil by going in underneath them. This usually brings the roots up with some soil still on them and makes the whole transplanting business less of a shock. Once you have thinned, seedlings may look a little sad and lopsided, just give them a drink of water using a watering can with a rose on it to prevent washing away your baby plants in a torrent. They should perk up within a day or so.
After thinning and recycling you should have a gap of about a hand’s length between plants. Keep soil relatively moist around your spinach as it doesn’t like to dry out for more than a day or so – especially when it is spreading its young roots through the soil. If it’s a bit chilly or windy you can protect rows of seedlings with a plastic cloche or individual seedlings can be given the comfort of a juice bottle cloche.
If you have a wormery then spinach will love a good glug of worm juice diluted to the strength of weak tea – maybe every two weeks. Once seedlings get to about the length of your middle finger you can mulch around them with straw, pea straw or newspaper to suppress weeds and keep in moisture.
Watch out for slugs and snails as the fresh green leaves continue to unfurl – they have an uncanny knack of turning up just when things are starting to look juicy. Keep grass mown short around your beds and remove any piles of old pots or other debris that might provide sanctuary for these pests. A trip outside with a torch at night and a personalised means of disposal that rests with your conscience will soon see numbers under control.
Spinach leaves can be attacked by ‘Leaf spot’ – a fungus which appears in the form of dark spots on leaves. Remove affected foliage, if practical, and use a Baking soda spray.
You can either pick individual leaves from around the outside of a plant as it continues to produce fresh new growth from the middle. I use both hands to tear the stems across rather than pulling which can dislodge roots. If you are tidy and well equipped then use scissors – take as much of the stem as you can because this can be eaten too. Alternatively you can cut all the way across a plant at about a thumb’s height from the ground and use all the leaves. As long as you leave this small amount of growth on the crown of your plant it will regenerate and produce more leaves over the following weeks.
With spinach it is worth making successive sowings if you have the space, say a row per month, to ensure continued supply. Water well to keep moist during any unseasonal dry spells.