WANT TO GROW A SUPER FOOD? TRY PLANTING SPINACH
Spinach may have gained its fame from the 1960s cartoon character Popeye, who got his strength by downing cans of it, but spinach has changed a lot since the days of coming out of a can looking like mush. Today many call spinach a “super food” because of its myriad health benefits. People in the U.S. consume nearly 2½ pounds of spinach per year per capita, according to the USDA, as news of its health benefits have become more widely known and as gardeners realize how easy it is to grow via organic gardening methods that produce a healthy pesticide-free and very nutritious food.
Spinach has many health benefits. Its packed with nutrition and has been identified as a cancer-preventative with flavonoids that act as antioxidants to lower the risk of some cancers. Folate in spinach is good for the cardiovascular system while magnesium helps lower high blood pressure. Studies also have shown that spinach helps maintain brain function and can act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the digestive system. Additional research has shown it can help eyesight by preventing macular degeneration and cataracts.
When to Plant
Like most leafy green vegetables, spinach is a cool season edible and so can be planted anytime from fall through late February. It grows best while temperatures are between 50 degrees and 75 degrees F but tolerates cold well. Cover during cold spells to prevent freezing.
It’s extremely easy to start from seed. We recommend that you sow it directly into the soil. Transplanting is not recommended due to the fragility of the plants.When the soil temperature reaches 85 degrees, spinach seeds will stop germinating.
To maximize your harvest, try successive sowings about 3 to 4 weeks apart.
Varieties suitable for North Texas
Texas ranks among the top spinach-producing states and many varieties can be grown in North Texas. The most popular variety we sell at Marshall Grain is Bloomsdale, which is an old, heirloom with excellent flavor. Other “open-pollinated” favorites we carry include Monstrueux de Viroflay and Lavewa. Matador, while not considered an heirloom, tolerates warmer temperatures and so will continue to produce later in the season.
Spinach matures quickly but the maturation date will depend on the variety planted. Baby greens often are ready to harvest in just 25 to 30 days after sowing. But why wait? Instead of refraining from harvesting until plant is mature, you can snip a few leaves at a time. The plant will continue to mature and produce more leaves for you to harvest again later. Once temperatures exceed 75 degrees, the plant will “bolt,” and go to seed.
Spinach must be planted in full sun. It grows equally well in the ground, in raised beds and in containers. Soil should well tilled. Always amend it with fresh compost and and a high quality organic fertilizer. Depending on the health and structure of your soil, you may also want to add mineral-rich Texas Greensand, and expanded shale or lava sand for moisture retention and loosening heavy soil.
How to Plant
To jump start seed germination, before planting, soak seeds overnight in a solution of Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed (1/2 teaspoon per cup of water).
Sow seeds in a single layer, and cover with 1/2 inch of soil. Overcrowding stunts growth and encourages plants to go to seed. To avoid crowding, thin seedlings to four to six inches apart once they have at least two true leaves.
Spinach has shallow roots and seedlings are fragile. Use only a thin layer of light weight mulch and use care when handling or harvesting.
Keep seeds moist until seedlings are mature enough to produce a few leaves. After your spinach emerges, go back and top dress your beds and containers with a light mulch such as hay or straw to prevent weeds.
Care and Maintenance
Because spinach is a cool season plant, it generally needs less watering. However, dry spells or windy weather may require irrigation.
Since the edible part of the spinach plant is the foliage, it’s important to encourage top growth. Fertilize every two weeks with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as Blood Meal (12-0-0), Maxicrop Fish Emulsion (5-1-1), or Lady Bug’s All Purpose 8-2-4 fertilizer.
Aphids are very fond of spinach, as are caterpillars. Both can be controlled with Neem oil, which can be used up to and including the day of harvest. Caterpillars can also be controlled with either Thuricide (Bt) or Spinosad.
Fugus is a common problem for spinach growers in many areas of the South. White rust, blue mold (downy mildew), and the soil-borne disease fusarium wilt are the primary pests in this category. White rust is a common problem during cool, humid conditions. If only a few leaves are infected just remove them. Blue mold can also be treated by removing infected leaves (look for yellow spots on top of the leaf and a grayish-blue mold on the bottom of the leaf). Neem oil not only an effective aphid control, but it is also a great fungicide, so you can use one product for most problems your spinach is likely to encounter.
Crop rotation is also an important preventative measure. Avoid planting spinach in the same area for at least three years for best results.
When you see a rosette of five to six leaves, the spinach is ready for harvesting. You can cut it with a scissors near the root to take the whole plant or harvest the outer, or older, leaves first, just cutting as many as you need for your meal or recipe. If you cut it near the base, you may be able to get an entire new crop before it gets too hot to grow spinach in North Texas.
Your spinach will stay fresh in the vegetable crisper for one to two weeks. Makes sure to wash it well to remove all dirt particles.
Recipes and Storage
Fresh spinach is wonderful with blue cheese or ranch dressing, maybe a little bacon, hard-cooked egg, etc, etc. It’s also great sauted with a little bacon grease, green onion and a vinegar hot pepper sauce. Spinach makes a great quiche and also works well in an omelet.
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