By Barbara Fahs, Garden Guides Contributor
If you like crunchy, healthy salads, spinach is an excellent vegetable. A member of the Chenopodiaceae family, along with chard and beets, spinach has more nutritious ingredients than most other foods: vitamins K, A, C and B2 rank high on the list. Minerals are abundant as well,manganese, iron, calcium and potassium all provide at least 25 percent of our daily requirements per cup of spinach eaten. Spinach is very low in calories, with 1 cup totaling only about 40 calories, and it gives your body needed antioxidants that can help to fight diseases.
You can grow spinach in all climate zones. Choose an area with rich, well-draining soil that receives full sun during the cooler months of the year. Compost will give your spinach the nitrogen it needs. Spinach needs a damp environment, but it doesn't like to grow in a puddle.
Easy to grow, delicious, low in calories and high in vitamins and nutrients,spinach is the perfect food for health-conscious consumers. Eaten raw, spinach is crunchy and makes a delectable salad. If you use an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, the health benefits keep adding up.
Choosing a Variety of Spinach
Spinach can bolt to seed when the weather is too warm. Bloomsdale Longstanding is a good variety to grow because it withstands the warmer days of early spring. Other varieties include Tyee, Olympia and Melody. New Zealand spinach is a similar vegetable, belonging to a different genus, Tetragoniceae. You can grow it during warmer weather.
Start seeds directly in the garden 3 to 6 weeks before your final frost. Plant seeds 1/2
inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows. To ensure a continuous supply of spring spinach, repeat your planting every 2 weeks until days reach 75 degrees. You can also start seeds in mid-August for a fall crop.
When plants reach 4 inches, thin them to 6 inches apart. Use the baby plants in salad. Then spread organic mulch to keep the soil moist and to keep weeds away. If you cover rows with a floating row cover, insect pests will be held at bay.
Spinach can be a favorite snack of aphids, grasshoppers and leafminers. If yours becomes infested, spray with a light solution of insecticidal soap. Downy mildew can also attack spinach: leaves will turn yellow and growth will be stunted if this occurs. If you water only the soil around your plants and not the leaves, you can prevent this condition from starting. Choosing a disease-resistant variety of spinach is a good idea.
Harvesting and Storing Spinach
When you want some spinach, cut the outer leaves from your plants. This helps the plant produce even more succulent vegetation. Once it starts to form flower buds, cut and use the entire plant.
Always wash spinach well. Then either spin it dry or lay it on a clean towel to absorb the moisture. If you roll spinach in a towel and seal it in a plastic bag, it will stay fresh in your vegetable crisper for several days.