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
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
Ease of cultivation: Not easy to grow well –
rich soil and regular watering are required.
· 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
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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
· 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.
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
Norvak: A typical example of the advance in plant
breeding which has occurred. Norvak is high yielding
and slow to bolt even in midsummer.
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.
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.