Be Like Popeye: Strong to the Finish When You Eat Your Spinach
Spinach wins when it comes to taste, versatility and the happy glow of eating something that’s good for you.
Oh spinach! So delicious and nutritious; full of vitamins (A, C, E and K), and key minerals (iron and calcium)! No wonder Popeye was so loyal. Spinach originally comes from Persia, though it owes much of its fame and a common name (Florentine) to one of its staunchest proponents, Catherine de Medici of Florence. Spinach is a distant relative of amaranth and a closer relation to chard and beets. You’ll find spinach leaves in smooth and crinkly, or savoy, varieties.
All varieties are delicious fresh or cooked. The texture of savoy is especially nice in a salad. It should be noted that fresh leaves are more prominent in oxalic acid, which in addition to creating that squeaky astringent feeling on your teeth, also limits the body’s absorption of calcium. Perhaps, this is why dairy is such a nice balance to spinach…think saag paneer, cream of spinach soup or the Mornay sauce essential to anything Florentine.—Joe and Judith
Gigante d’Inverno, Bloomsdale Long Standing, Space
What I’m Wearing
Ranging in all shades of the green color spectrum, leaves can be perfectly oval, like an egg, or delicate and heart-shaped.
Velvety and sap-filled, spinach packs a sweet, earthy, astringent punch in every bite.
How to Grow
We typically start young seeds in cells in the greenhouse, but spinach can also be sown directly. For transplanting, we space the plants 6-8” in the rows and 6-8” between rows. Be careful not to plant young plants too deep and bury the new leaves that grow from the heart of the plant.
- If you sow seeds directly, make sure to keep them very damp until germination of seeds. You can cover with row-cover fabric to keep the seeds moist until first cotyledons emerge.
- Our climate, in the Southeast, is not kind to spinach plants, which have a preference for cooler and temperate weather. To keep young plants from bolting, or growing a seed head, we typically treat spinach as a winter and early spring crop, but it can be grown year-round in other, cooler places.
- Spinach makes a high demand on nitrogen nutrients, like most other vegetative crops where leaves are the part of the plant harvested. We typically fertilize with feather or alfalfa meal.
- Once seedlings are established, try not to over-water, as spinach is sensitive to the damping-off fungus that can cause young plants to wilt and rot early.
- Most years we have a problem with vegetable weevils, particularly the young, larval caterpillars. These buggers eat the young leaves of our spinach plants, essential to helping the plant photosynthesize. We have used diatomaceous earth, or the skeletal remains of diatoms, harmful to insects, but innocuous to mammals. Diatoms are microscopic and razor-sharp, cutting the tender bodies of the larval and adult stages of vegetable weevil.
- We have a tendency to harvest the leaves when they are medium-sized or baby, avoiding the larger leaves that often tear significantly when picking, washing and bagging.
No vegetable has perhaps as mythic a reputation as spinach; that famously good-for-you, vitamin-packed leafy green powerhouse. Nutritious, yes. But also delicious too when folded into a savory Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip, a la Paula Deen, a favorite app of many a party hostess. And is there anything as lush planted next to a juicy steak as a delectable Creamed Spinach? We think not.
Our buddies at FN Dish recommend skipping that depressing brick of frozen spinach hiding in the back of your freezer and reveling in the season: add fresh spinach in place of frozen to your recipes this fall. If stems bother you, choose baby spinach, and kick those pesky sticks to the curb. We’re anxious to use our homegrown spinach from our winter garden in Giada De Laurentiis’s Pork Chops Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach. Any way you slice it, spinach is a winner when it comes to taste, adaptability and that happy glow of eating something that’s good for you.
In this Garden to Table feature, farmer-bloggers Judith Winfrey and Joe Reynolds offer their tips for sowing, growing and harvesting. And then we kick it over to FN Dish for some delicious recipes using this seasonal produce.