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Spinach

UK Garden Centre - Information about Spinach

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The experts will tell you that it is possible to pick spinach every day of the year from your garden…but who would want to? The average family regards spinach as an uncomplicated and unattractive vegetable – green leaves which turn into gritty, slimy and strong-tasting mush when cooked. However, it is eaten occasionally because of its remarkably high content of iron. All of these points, however, are incorrect. First of all, it is certainly not uncomplicated – the classification of spinach is complex. There are two types of true spinach – they are both annuals which are either picked in summer (round-seeded varieties) or during winter and spring (mostly prickly-seeded varieties). The half-hardy New Zealand spinach is not spinach at all although its leaves are used in the same way, and perpetual spinach (spinach beet) is really a type of beetroot. Secondly, it is prolonged storage, poor preparation and bad cooking which give rise to the grittiness and sliminess. Finally, spinach does not deserve its Popeye image – the iron content is not much higher than occurs in fresh peas, and its oxalic acid content makes it unsuitable for feeding in large quantities to children.

Seed facts
Spinach seed is either round (smooth-surfaced) or prickly (rough-surfaced).
Expected germination time: 12-20 days
Approximate number per ounce: 1500
Expected yield from a 10ft row: 5-10lb (2.5-5kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 4 years
Approximate time between sowing and picking: 8-14 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not easy to grow well – rich soil and regular watering are required.

Soil facts
· Spinach is sometimes described as an easy vegetable to grow, but it will not succeed if the soil and position are poor. The ground must be rich and contain plenty of organic matter – starved spinach produces a bitter-tasting crop.
· The ideal place for summer spinach is between rows of tall-growing vegetables – the dappled shade will reduce the risk of running to seed. Sow winter spinach and New Zealand spinach in a sunny spot.
· Dig deeply in winter and apply lime if necessary. Apply Growmore fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing time.

Seed Sowing
· Dig drills 1in (2.5cm) deep and sow seed very thinly. Cover with soil. Drills should be 12in (30cm) apart.
· New Zealand spinach needs more space. Sow 3 seeds about ¾ in (2cm) below the surface, spacing the groups 2ft (60cm) apart. Thin to one plant per station.

Calendar
· Summer varieties: Sow every few weeks from mid March to the end of May for picking between late May and the end of October.
· Winter varieties: Sow in August and again in September for picking between October and April.
· New Zealand variety: Sow in late May for picking between June and September.

Looking after the crop
· The seedlings of summer and winter varieties should be thinned to 3in (7cm) apart as soon as they are large enough to handle. A few weeks later remove alternate plants for kitchen use – do not delay thinning.
· Hoe to keep down weeds. Water copiously during dry spells in summer.
· Winter varieties will need some sort of protection from October onwards unless you are lucky enough to live in a mild area. Use cloches or straw to cover the plants.

Harvesting
· Start picking as soon as the leaves have reached a reasonable size. Always take the outer leaves, which should still be at the young and tender stage. The secret is to pick continually so that fresh growth is encouraged. With summer varieties you can take up to half the leaves without damaging the plants – with winter varieties pick much more sparingly. Take care when harvesting. Pick off the leaves with fingernails – don’t wrench them off which could damage the stems or roots.
· The rules for New Zealand spinach are different – pull off a few young shoots from the base of the plant at each harvesting session. A single sowing will last throughout the summer if you pick little and often.

Varieties
Summer varieties
These varieties have round seeds and will grow quickly under good conditions to provide an early and tender crop. The major problem is their dislike of hot and dry weather, and some varieties rapidly run to seed during a prolonged warm spell in summer.
King of Denmark: An old favourite – the round leaves are borne well above the ground but the resistance to bolting is not good.
Cleanleaf: Like King of Denmark, the leaves are borne above the soil and so are generally free from mud when picked.
Bloomsdale: a deep green variety which has earned a good reputation for resistance to bolting. Certainly worth a trial.
Long-standing Round: A popular variety, highly recommended for early spring sowing. Noted for its flavour, but a late-sown crop may quickly run to seed.
Sigmaleaf: Perhaps no other summer variety goes on cropping for quite so long without running to seed. That is not its only advantage – Sigmaleaf can be sown in autumn as a winter variety.
Symphony: An F1 hybrid with an impressive list of virtues. Early, erect, large-leaved, and high resistance to both mildew and bolting.
Victoria: An old variety which has been surpassed by the modern types which have been bred for bolt resistance.
Norvak: A typical example of the advance in plant breeding which has occurred. Norvak is high yielding and slow to bolt even in midsummer.

Winter varieties
Most of these varieties have prickly seeds but there are exceptions, such as Sigmaleaf, which have smooth seed. These plants provide a useful harvest of greens from October to April. Pick regularly and use only young leaves for cooking – pick old leaves and leave them in the kitchen for a few days and you will soon discover just how unpleasant spinach can taste!
Broad-leaved Prickly: The name refers, of course, to the seeds and not the leaves. A standard winter variety – the foliage is dark and fleshy and the plants are slow to bolt.
Long-standing Prickly: Quick to grow and slow to run to seed – an old favourite which is loosing its place in the catalogues.
Greenmarket: Highly recommended by many experts but it is not easy to find in the catalogues. It has good resistance to bolting and the large leaves are borne in abundance. Greenmarket can be grown as a summer variety.
Monnopa: A fine-flavoured variety which has a low oxalic acid content. Grow it if you propose to use some of the crop as baby food.
Sigmaleaf: See ‘Summer varieties’.

New Zealand variety
This is not a true spinach. It is a dwarf and rambling plant with soft, fleshy leaves which are used as a spinach substitute. It is sensitive to frost and so it should be raised indoors and planted out in May or sown outdoors when the danger of frost has passed. Soak seed overnight before sowing and pinch out the tips of young plants to induce bushiness. Try it and see if you prefer the mild flavour to that of true spinach – its advantages is the ability to flourish in hot and dry conditions without running to seed.

Troubles
There are only three troubles which are likely to affect spinach, but they can make this a difficult crop to grow. Downy mildew, bolting and spinach blight are the major troubles, and if you have had problems with annual spinach in the past then try the much easier types – New Zealand spinach and spinach beet.
Downy Mildew
Manganese Deficiency
Bolting
Leaf Spot
Spinach Blight


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