(Species: Spinacia oleracea - Families: Chenopodiaceae)
Spinach and its origins
Spinach is a well-known leaf that is widely used for its distinctive earthy flavour, either as a young leaf in salads or in cooking. It is highly nutritious and renowned for its high iron content.
It is native to Iran and was introduced to China in the 7th century, and then brought to Europe in about the 12th century. In China, this leafy vegetable is still widely known as 'the Persian green'.
Spinach is a member of the goosefoot family, and is a close relative to both beets and chard.
Spinach is a hardy member of the vegetable garden with dark green leaves that can have dark red veins and stems. It is a quick growing crop: it can be harvested from just six to eight weeks after sowing from seed. Each plant is capable of producing leaves for a period of two to three months.
The one drawback when growing this vegetable is its inclination to bolt in hot, dry weather. When a vegetable bolts, it can shoot up a flower and effect the flavour and success of the final crop. So usefully, new Spinach varieties have been introduced for gardeners that are slow to bolt, as well as, being resistant to downy mildew.
How to plant: Spinach
Spinach is a quick and easy leaf to grow. It is generally trouble-free and can keep the kitchen supplied with a nutritious harvest for most months of the year.
It is advisable to sow more seeds rather than less, as well as successionally, because the leaves reduce greatly in cooking, so large amounts are needed for each harvest if the intention is to use for cooking. This vegetable is also a useful 'catch crop' i.e. to sow in the spaces between vegetables that sit in the ground for longer, such as sweetcorn.
Spinach flourishes in light shade and soil that is fertile and moisture-retentive, so dig in plenty of organic matter before sowing. A nitrogen-rich fertiliser is helpful too XXX. Sow the seed directly outdoors, into the soil as thinly as possible, 1cm deep and 2.5cm apart, in rows 30cm apart. Thin out to 20cm between plants.
Germination is very quick, usually less than seven days. For a long season, sow continuously every three to four weeks from early to late spring when you want to harvest in summer; sow in late summer for winter harvesting, through to early summer. If slugs and snails are a problem, take precautions XXXX or the seedlings could be devoured.
Keep the crop well-watered especially in summer, because dryness at the roots is likely to make the plants bolt. Pick young leaves occasionally for use in salads and use larger leaves for steaming or braising. If plants are picked continually, they will produce fresh growth for a longer period, and will help keep good air circulation and thus prevent downy mildew which can damage the spinach leaves.
Did you know?
Mediaeval artists used the green pigment from the leaves to make paint.
'Florentine' is the name given to dishes where this vegetable is a key ingredient. This is due to the fact that in the 16th century Florence was the home of Catherine de Medici, a lover of spinach.