Every autumn without fail I start to sow English Spinach. It is a fantastic leafy green vegetable that is easy to grow and extremely versatile in the garden. I recently sowed the first batch directly into the ground in mid April and it is only a couple of weeks away from eating. It got a hammering from the wind and rain that Newcastle was subject to in April, but it has recovered quite nicely.
Before I go too far with telling you about spinach let me clear one thing up. When I say spinach I mean English spinach, not silver beet. I bet that if I was to send a couple of people to a shop to buy some spinach, the majority of times they would come back with a bunch of silver beet. I can appreciate that they are both green, and that they generally available and eaten cooked in the cooler months, but they are distinctly different. Silver beet is sold in bunches, 35-40cm long, has white stems and curly leaves. Spinach is usually sold in bags as salad leaves; they are small 4-5cm and are flat leaves. Both are used in a similar fashion in the kitchen, cooked or eaten raw. Spinach is a much milder taste than silver beet and more versatile I reckon.
Growing spinach is very rewarding because it does not take long and it appeals to the impatient side of my character. I start to sow spinach in mid April every year and every 6-8 weeks I repeat until the end of August. Scheduling this way gives me fresh leaves to eat from the end of May right through the winter months and into October if I am lucky and the season is favourable. From sowing until the harvest is about 6 weeks, and I can continuously pick leaves for 8-10 weeks from every batch. Brilliant cold season veggie I reckon!
English Spinach grows in most soil types with a ph balance between 5.5 and 6.5. It loves to grow in deeply cultivated, rich soil with plenty of organic matter so each planting should have it added for best results. Grow in full sun throughout the cooler months, but if you can the later season crops will do better with a bit of shade as the spring months warm up.
Sow the seeds directly into the soil in rows 20cm apart. What I do is to mulch the soil with sugar cane mulch then expose the soil in a row 5cm wide. Sow directly into the bare strip and if you do it this way the plants will be protected from soil splashback when it rains, saving you the unpleasant sensation of gritty leaves to eat. Keep the soil surface moist but not wet and they will germinate in 4-6 days. I avoid buying punnets because they are so easy to grow from seed.
Plants may need thinning to be 3cm apart in but don’t be too fussy if you don’t find the time to thin them, the stronger ones will dominate. I feed with liquid fertilizer every 3 weeks so that they stay a bright green and lush. The trick with spinach is to keep them growing fast. I reckon that they are at their best as young leaves.
When the leaves are about 5cm long you can start to harvest. When you start be a bit careful because the root system is not too well developed and it is easy to pull the whole plant out of the ground by mistake. Pinch each stem off carefully and all will be good. I harvest fresh as I need the leaves but each plant is only harvested once a week. I don’t want to strip it bare of leaves. If you have scheduled your sowing well, your second batch will start while you are still harvesting the previous batch. Occasionally throughout the season there will be too much spinach for me to handle. When this happens it can be frozen for later use.
It’s biggest enemy in the garden is snails and slugs. You can lose an entire row of seedlings overnight to the hungry little buggers if you are not careful. Use coffee grinds, pellets or good old fashioned nightly patrols to keep them away.
So there it is. Quick growing fresh food for an impatient gardener. Grow ‘em fast, and eat ‘em young! The best way to grow spinach.