Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that grows in cold weather. It is a well known fact that spinach is rich in iron, but it is even high in Vitamin A and C, Potassium, and Thiamine. Besides the above minerals, spinach is also a rich source of Calcium, Copper, Protein, Zinc, Phosphorus, Selenium and Omega-3 fatty acids. Like other green leafy vegetables, it also contains zeaxanthin and carotenoids lutein. It tastes great when cooked. Spinach is grown for its dark green leaves; the leaves are alternate and simple; are ovate or triangular based, and vary in size from about 2-30 cms in length and 1-15 cms in breadth. Spinach is rich in antioxidants, especially when fresh, steamed, or boiled.
The old and the modern varieties of spinach differ in certain aspects. In warm conditions, old varieties tend to bold too earlier, while the newer ones tend to grow rapidly, but are not found to run up to seeds that fast. Old varieties do have leaves that are narrow and with a stronger and bitter taste. The newer varieties have broader leaves with round seeds.
Spinach has three basic types:
a) Savoy: It has dark green, crinkly, and curly leaves. This type is usually sold in bunches in markets. One of the heirloom varieties of Savoy is Bloomsdale, which is resistant to bolting. Other common heirloom varieties include Viroflay (a very large spinach with great leaves) and Merlo Nero (a mild variety from Italy).
b) Flat/Smooth leaf spinach: This type has broad and smooth leaves. The leaves are easier to clean than that of the Savoy’s. This type is often grown for frozen and processed spinach, as well as soups and baby foods.
c) Semi-Savoy: This is a hybrid variety. Its leaves are slightly crinkled. The texture is similar to that of Savoy, but it is not as difficult to clean as Savoy. This type of spinach is grown for both processing and fresh market.
3. Useful tips:
Here are some tips, which will help you grow spinach in your garden. These are:
a) When to plant: Spinach is a cold season vegetable. It prefers sunny locations and fertile, well-drained soil. You need to plant these the spring, a couple of weeks before the last frost; the seeds should be planted a little deep, say half to one inch. Afterwards, thin the seedlings or transplant the spinach three inches apart in a row, maintaining the distance between the rows to 12 inches. Spinach tastes better if the plant grows rapidly and matures before the summer season. During growth period, avoid using fertilizers and watering stress. Ensure that the diseases and insects are controlled throughout the year. When the leaves reach full size, harvest the spinach. Spinach grows best when temperature does not exceed 75 degree Fahrenheit.
b) Where to plant: Spinach needs well drained soil; with a recommended neutral pH level of not less than 6.0. Use a fertilizer, which is rich in Nitrogen because nitrogen rich fertilizer will help in producing dark and healthy leaves. Spinach seeds should be grown after the soil reaches 40 degree Fahrenheit. Remember temperature above 80 degree Fahrenheit reduces seed germination.
c) How to plant: Chill the seeds in the refrigerator a day before sowing the seed. Sow the seeds directly in the sun spots against a tree or a wall as it will require a support when it grows. Apply fertilizer when sowing the seed and then fortnightly for the healthy growth of the leaves. Seeds should be planted ½ – 1 inch deep.
d) How to water: Water spinach regularly supplying 2-3 inches every week. Water requirement depends on the temperature and the soil type. Mulch around the plant helps reduce weeds and conserve the moisture. Do not over water.
e) How to harvest: You can start harvesting a few months after sowing the seed. If you are using spinach for salad, then cut the leaves when they are small and immature. But if you are cooking the spinach, then wait for the leaves to reach 25-30 centimeters in length. Cut the stem of near the base of the leaf with a sharp knife, taking the outside leaves mainly. Leave some leaves (at lest a quarter of the plant) for the plant to grow back.
4. Fertilizers required:
A high level of fertilizers is required for spinach, especially the nitrogen ones. As compared to the fall crops, early spring spinach may require larger quantity of fertilizers. You may apply three pounds as 10-10-10 per 100 square ft. Take care that fertilizers never come in contact with the seed. If you are using the commercial fertilizer then 3-1-2, 4-1-3 ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are recommended. If you are using organic fertilizers, then blood and cottonseed meals, fish emulsion, and alfalfa pallets are the best. Spinach also requires adequate boron.
5. Common diseases:
Major diseases associated with spinach are:
a) Bacterial diseases: These diseases include bacterial leaf spot, bacterial soft rot, and witches-broom.
b) Fungal diseases: These diseases include anthracnose, aphanomyces root rot, damping off, red rust, and white smut.
c) Viral diseases: These include curly top, speckles, spinach blight, yellow dwarf, etc.
6. Weeds and pests:
To control weeds on the beds between the rows, the cultivation should be shallow. Spinach aphids and leaf miners are the two predominant insect pests found on spinach.
7. Things to watch out for:
If you are growing spinach in your garden, then choose the site that gets full sun during cold weather. Keep the soil moist, and feed the plant every 2 weeks until they are six inches tall. Maintain distance between each plant in a row and keep each row 12 inches apart from the other.