Tag Archive for: Spinach Tips

Bloomsdale Spinach

After Ellen’s article about “Alternative Spinach Greens” she now tells us more about the original spinach. Grown in the cooler season in a rich soil, spinach is delicious – juicy with a nice crunch to it; a mildly sweet flavor and no bitterness. Sort of like a bolder leaf lettuce.

There is little written about the history of spinach. It is a common sight in the grocery stores and at farmers markets. In most areas it is hard to find spinach year round at market, because its season is so short lived, just 6 weeks or so.

Spinach seed germinates best in soils that are 40- 70 degrees F and prefers cool days and nights. At 40 degrees F it may take spinach two-three weeks to germinate, but most seeds will sprout. Whereas waiting for warmer soil temps to plant spinach one will see a decrease in germination and faster emergence of seedlings.

Spinach does well from March through May and again September through November. Spring plantings should be planted 6 weeks before the last frost in moist, nitrogen-rich soils. Consistent watering will produce a long harvest and the best looking leaves. When temperatures get warmer, watering twice a day and the cooling effects of shade cloth will help prolong harvest. Spinach’s season is short and perhaps that played into its status as the first vegetable to be frozen for commercial use.

Fall plantings also do well and will regrow in the spring, providing a few extra and welcome harvests early in the spring when everything is just getting started.

There are two types of leaves on spinach. Smoothed leaf spinach produces an oblong, dark to light green leaf. Savoy-types have slightly crinkled leaves with thicker dark green leaves. Regardless of what kind of spinach you grow, spinach is a well-loved vegetable.

The vegetable was probably bred from Spinacia tetranda, a wild edible green found in Nepal. In 647 AD spinach was taken from Nepal to China where it was referred to as the “Persian green.” Spinach was introduced by the Moors of North Africa to Spain in the 11th century. By the Middle Ages, spinach was grown and sold throughout the rest of Europe, and in England was known as the “Spanish vegetable.” It was not until the 1400’s that spinach became a staple in Mediteranean cooking.

Catherine de Medici, Italian royalty of the 1500’s, preferred spinach over other greens. When she left her home in Florence to marry into the French royal family she brought cooks with her to prepare her favorite spinach dishes. Dishes that are served with a bed of spinach are known as “a la Florentine” in her honor.

Breeding work with spinach began in earnest in the early part of the 20th century when breeders started selecting and hybridizing spinach varieties with disease resistance and those that are slower to bolt. One of the best-known varieties came from that period: ‘Bloomsdale Long Standing,’ a slow-bolting, savoyed spinach that is popular today.

New Zealand Spinach

Spinach is either loved or hated, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. This is probably the result of either being subjected to slimy canned spinach as a child, or having escaped those trials at the dining table.

The good news is that love of spinach can be learned, especially when that spinach is freshly grown from your own garden, picked only minutes before showing up in a salad, sandwich or other dish.

Several visitors to our garden have proclaimed that they don’t like spinach, all the while munching on a few fresh leaves of the hated green.We have learned not to announce what we are handing out to be tasted, letting them try and taste before discussing it. More than one has been very pleasantly surprised to hear that they actually do like spinach, when it is fresh.

What many don’t know is that spinach is a cool season crop, but for most of the country that means it can be grown twice a growing season, as an early spring green and then again as a fall and winter crop, planted at the end of the summer and enjoyed well into the colder seasons. Some gardeners will enjoy their fresh spinach past Thanksgiving and almost until Christmas, even in the northern states with a cold frame, row cover or hoop house.

The downside is that spinach becomes bitter rapidly when the temperatures are above about 80°F, but that is where the spinach alternatives arrive to rescue the summer salads. None of them are true spinach, but they are all heat loving, deliciously crunchy greens that can be enjoyed during hot weather.

Ellen contributes another article from her internship, giving us her take on these greens!

One of my favorite fall vegetables is spinach. The hearty, meaty leaves come as a welcome contrast to everything that is typically getting ready for winter at this time. Spinach that is planted in the fall will grow for a few weeks in the springtime, giving two harvests off of one planting!
    We are used to seeing lettuce and salad greens all year in the supermarket. The reality is that salad downright prefers to grow in cool weather. Much of the supermarket lettuce is grown in artificial conditions or in climates that are cool year round. When I was in New Mexico, I ran an acre kitchen garden for Real Food Nation, a farm-to-table style café. One of our main crops was lettuce, for salads. While it is possible to grow salad greens in the heat of July, it takes a little coaxing, and in the arid high altitude desert, a little too much water for my conscience. I prefer to grow lettuce in spring and again in fall, when it really wants to grow. The heads that come off these plantings are always stunning.

    How many of you have planted lettuce, or spinach, in the summer time, and noticed the leaves remain stunted, or wilt, or even start growing pointed leaves? When temperatures get warm enough, cool weather greens begin to exhibit physiological changes. They are getting ready to send up a seed stalk, bolt, and produce seed. It can be frustrating to tend to a planting only to miss out on eating any of it.

    But it is also a good reminder from Nature to plant – and eat – within season. Lots of people would like to grow lettuce all summer and to eat fresh spinach all year long. In some places this is possible, but in most climates this is not the case. However, just because we can’t grow lettuce in the summer doesn’t mean we have to stop eating salad in the summer! I’ve put together this list of heat-loving greens to try planting for summer greens. Each plant is adapted to growing in hot climates and are steady producing greens through the hot season.

    Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, amaranth, and huauzontle, or Red Aztec spinach are all plants to try. Below is a brief introduction to each and planting directions and tips can be found elsewhere on the website.

 Red Aztec Spinach   Red Aztec Spinach (Huauzontle, or Chenepodium berlandieri): This ‘spinach’ was widely cultivated all over the Americas by Native Americans as a vegetable. In the Andes it has been cultivated for 5,000 years and is now known for the food seeds it produces, quinoa. Red Aztec is used as a green that is heat tolerant and drought-resistant. The lower leaves turn bright red as they mature and hold their color in cooking (only 30-60 seconds in boiling water). Seed-heads can be stir-fried and the seeds can be used for red tortillas or for sprouting. In New Mexico, the young green leaves of wild huauazontle are eaten widely in the summer, when the plants grow best.
    Malabar Spinach Malabar Spinach (Basella rubris): This vining plant from India does best in hot and humid climates and provides a summer supply of cooking and raw greens. There are two cultivars of Malabar spinach, one is red-vined and the other green with deep, shiny leaves. Parts of the red veined variety of Malabar spinach is used as ink and as a potent dye. The plants leaves have a slight mucilaginous texture, which is remediated by using a salad dressing with vinegar.

   AmaranthAmaranth (Amaranthus hybridus): One of my favorite greens to grow–and not always green! The oval, decorative looking leaves of this plant are anywhere from deep fushia to light green with white and pink centers. I always have people asking about these plants when they’re in the garden. These plants thrive in the heat, and may be grown for their seeds, which are used as a grain. Leaves are eaten steamed when young.

    New Zealand SpinachNew Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia Tetrogonoides): I first saw this plant in New Zealand, where it is called ice plant. It is a succulent herb with a pleasant watery texture and grows well through heat and frost alike. People rave about this plant in containers, as it has a sprawling habit and doesn’t need any fussing with to cascade over a wall, or the side of a pot. Makes a great ground cover between other plantings! While New Zealand spinach may be eaten raw, some prefer it as a cooked vegetable.
    In addition to these wonderful heat tolerant “spinach” plants, the heirloom spinach cultivars are not to be missed. I have grown Bloomsdale and Monstreux de Viroflay varieties. Both gave good quantities of slightly crinkled deep green leaves.

Free-range Chickens

Raising backyard chickens is becoming increasingly popular, no matter where you live. There have always been rural chickens, but now there are small and large city chickens, happily living in coops and backyards all across the country. Chickens can do a lot for you, both in the garden and in the kitchen. First off, they give you a real measure of food security and increase your resiliency. The eggs are a great bartering tool, as very few folks that we’ve talked to weren’t interested in some fresh home-raised eggs. Chickens are great for bug control, light soil tilling and fertilization. The chicken manure is very high in Nitrogen and is a great addition to your compost. Home raised eggs are some of the highest nutritional content of any chickens, including free-range. The reason is that most home raised chickens are pampered and given extra nutrition and care. It is very easy to provide a highly nutritious and healthy diet for your backyard chickens from your home garden. We will look at several heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers that you can easily grow in your garden that will not only provide some tasty treats for your chickens, but give you some great greens as well.

Almost any of the greens and vegetables that you enjoy your chickens will love. You have probably seen them get really excited if you share salad fixings or old veggies from your refrigerator. Think of how they will get when they know that the garden is providing treats for them all of the time! You don’t have to plant a special garden just for the chickens, as they will happily devour any greens that come their way.

The question is often asked of why grow your chicken’s food, why not just buy the 50lb. bag of chicken scratch and call it good? There is nothing wrong with going this route, and realistically you will most likely need to have some commercial feed available as your garden may or may not produce enough greens and grains for your flock. This will vary depending on the size of your garden compared to the size of your flock. The real answer to growing fresh greens for your chickens is the same answer as to why you would want to grow your own garden- taste, nutrition and choice.

Spring Chicken

Spring Chicken

Let’s look at several varieties of vegetables and herbs that are easily grown in a home garden setting that will provide some tasty and highly nutritious greens for both you and your birds. Starting off in the cooler season with some cold-hardy greens will help jump-start the hens energy levels. Kale, Swiss Chard, mustard greens and beet tops are a great start to the season. They all like a cooler soil, sprout quickly and will provide some serious nutrition. Speaking of sprouting, sprouts are an absolute powerhouse of nutrition and are ready to eat in 4-7 days. Alfalfa sprouts are possibly the best known, but there are several different types of sprouts such as radish, mung bean and red clover that work well. Sprouts take up minimal space, use little water and need only the most basic equipment to produce a couple of pounds of fresh food. This is a technique that works especially well in the depths of winter when other greens are scarce and expensive. You can produce plenty of sprouts for yourself and a half dozen chickens from a half gallon jar with a sprouting screen lid on your kitchen sink.

Once the weather starts warming up more options open up for different vegetables and greens. Cabbage, chicory, mustards, spinach and a number of greens do well in the early spring once the soil has started warming up. These include Miner’s Lettuce, French Purslane and Aztec Red Spinach. Once the true spinach starts to bolt in the warmer weather, switch to the spinach substitutes such as red and green malabar spinach, the Aztec Red spinach and New Zealand spinach. All of these love the heat, won’t bolt and produce all through the hotter weather. Traditional winter cover crops such as alfalfa, clover, vetch and annual rye should be considered for later in the year.

If you have the space, pumpkins and squash- both summer and winter- can be excellent feed choices. Winter squash and pumpkins that can be stored until later in the winter give you an additional resource for high quality feed when nothing else is growing. Corn is another great choice, space permitting, as it is the base for the commercial feeds. Other grains that will grow well in a smaller home garden set up is Mennonite Sorghum, Amaranth and Quinoa. Don’t forget Sunflowers, as they can provide both shade and a wind break for your garden along with seeds for your girls.

Many folks don’t think of herbs when it comes to providing food for chickens, but there are some great choices here. Borage is one such, as it has lots of mineral-rich leaves as well as flowers that are edible and make excellent additions to a chicken’s diet. Comfrey is in the Borage family and is another great choice.

To help you get started, we have created a section on our website called “Backyard Chickens Collection”, appropriately enough. We list all of the varieties that are mentioned in this article to save you the time of looking throughout the website to find them. It is really easy to incorporate the chicken feed aspect into your existing gardening plan. Planting one or two extra plants of each variety for each half dozen chickens is usually sufficient, with grains such as Amaranth and sunflowers going almost exclusively to the chickens. As with most things gardening related, a little experimentation will prove the way as you see what volumes of fresh garden produce you particular flock of chickens needs.