Edible garden: Spinach

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Edible garden: Spinach

All you need to know about growing this vitamin and health powerhouse.

Remember Popeye the Sailor, the 1930s cartoon character who became super-strong by eating spinach? Popeye was smart – spinach is definitely good for you. It's a good source of folate and fibre, as well as being rich in antioxidants. These have been associated with a wide range of health benefits from cancer prevention to improved eye health.

Spinach has been renowned for being high in iron and while this is true compared to many vegetables, the non-heme iron found in vegetables is less readily available to the body. You can maximise the iron absorption from your spinach by including meat or vitamin C-rich fruit, eg. kiwifruit or oranges, or lemon juice with a meal.

Popular and tasty varieties include Bloomsdale and Winter Bloomsdale, which both have dark green, very crinkly leaves; and Hector, which has smooth, dark green tender leaves and is ideal for salads.

Then there is New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia expansa), which is not actually a spinach at all but tastes very similar. Once established, New Zealand spinach is a vigorous trailing plant that thrives in hot, dry conditions in semi-shade. It is ideal for container growing – its attractive, fleshy foliage will quickly trail over the sides and hide the container. The more it's picked, the more it produces.

Spinach is hardy and easy to grow. The only thing it doesn't like is heat, which causes it to 'bolt' to seed. The best time to plant spinach is early in spring or in autumn. It is a quick-growing plant, maturing in 7–9 weeks.

Spinach loves organically rich soil with good nitrogen content. Sow seeds directly into well-drained garden beds or containers approx. 60mm apart, in rows about 200mm apart.

Or plant into trays and transplant the seedlings when they're large enough. Seeds will germinate in 7–18 days. Keep the soil evenly moist.

As they grow, transplant alternate plants to thin the rows or harvest these tender young plants to eat in salads.

As the plants mature, pick the outer leaves and allow the inner leaves to develop for later harvest.

My favourite ways of eating spinach are very simple:

  • Toss steamed spinach with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little crushed garlic, then sprinkle with shaved parmesan and serve immediately.
  • Add layers of wilted spinach to lasagne.
First published: May 2005

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