Grow it yourself: spinach

Silver beet and spinach are close relatives. Indeed, somebody very close to me claims they taste the same when cooked, which I can’t argue against because it is so long since I have eaten the former. Texturally, I much prefer the finer, softer leaves of spinach and will happily eat those. Spinach is a winter vegetable. It will continue growing in colder temperatures but as soon as the weather warms in spring, it will bolt to seed. It is not quite as amenable as silver beet to grow and while you can leave plants in the ground and just pick as much as you need, it does not have the same cut and come again characteristics.

Well cultivated, well drained soil rich in nitrogenous fertiliser and full sun are the keys. Spinach is usually direct sown from seed and most of us now know to pick the thinnings and eat them as micro greens in salads or stir fries. The final spacing is in the 10cm range. In the right conditions, it is a quick crop because it will mature within a couple of months and you may have been eating immature leaves all that time. Some gardeners like to sow successive crops every few weeks to ensure continued supply.

There are a number of different spinach varieties, including New Zealand spinach or kokihi which is a different plant altogether (though similar taste and texture) and is our one great contribution to the global world of vegetables. While most spinach are spinacia, it is Tetragonia expansa. We recommend shunning the heirloom strawberry spinach (Chenopodium foliosum), being of the opinion that the reason it has been around for over 400 years is because it seeds so freely it is nigh on impossible to eradicate once you have it. The leaves are pleasant enough but the so-called strawberry seed heads are not.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.