Spinach is a remarkable plant! It's delicious raw, crisp, and crunchy, of course, but steamed and flavored with a good balsamic vinegar, it is also a different but enjoyable taste experience. However, the satisfying taste is only a small part of its wonders. In the first place, it's very high in vitamin C and in riboflavin. Cooked, it has a high level of vitamin A, folate, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins E, B6, and thiamin! All in this humble little plant. No wonder Mother made us eat our spinach! Eating spinach daily (or drinking it) will lower your risk of lung cancer, so say the researchers.
Preparing Spinach for Consumption
Spinach is the most potent of all the vegetable juices for the prevention of cancer, and you can puree it with just about any fresh, raw vegetable. For example, a handful of spinach pureed with several carrots not only tastes good, it's also good for the digestion. Experiment! You may come up with a combination you’ll love and use over and over. Spinach in salads also has endless possibilities. For example, a cup of spinach shredded plus a cup of shredded carrots to which you add tahini and a vinegar of your choice make a refreshing simple salad. Spinach can also be steamed or cooked. You may remember the first time you cooked it. You start with a big bunch, put it in a pot on the stove, add a little water, and the minute it begins to heat up, it begins to shrink and you end up with not very much cooked spinach. That's because spinach has high water content. However, the iron in spinach is soluble, so don't throw that water away–it's still rich in important nutrients.
Spring planting. Spinach can be planted early, so you can have fresh salads before some gardeners even get their tools out of the shed. It likes well-drained soil, so work on your soil first. You can sow it directly into the ground as soon as soil temp is 35 F. Sow seeds broadcast in rows from one to three feet apart and then thin the seedlings to 4 inches apart or so. Keep them moist but not wet and fertilize with fish emulsion dissolved in water until they are about three inches tall. Be sure to mulch your plants to keep them cool and moist and to avoid pests. It's also wise to add organic matter to your soil to encourage good microbes that will ward off pests that might attack your spinach crop.
Overwintering. It can be said in a few words: sow seeds in late summer and keep things cool. The best news of all is that spinach can overwinter successfully. However, you need to follow a few guidelines to achieve this. Plan for about an inch high of growth before the first hard frost. Plan is the operative word. Sow seeds directly in the ground from 4 to 6 weeks before cold weather. The plants are not very cooperative–they refuse to germinate in soil that is warmer than 70 F. In most parts of the country, it's late summer before the soil is that cool. However, don't despair; you can trick the seeds. First of all, you need to find a variety of seeds adapted to overwintering. Freeze these seeds for a couple of days, then place them between damp paper towels. Seal your “sandwiched” seeds in a plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator for as few as five and as many as seven days. This will add at least a week to your planting schedule. Here's where planning comes in. Start early enough so the seedlings will be that one inch we mentioned earlier before the first hard freeze.
Prepare the bed and plant your spinach for overwintering. While you’re waiting for your seeds, get your bed ready. Clear it of leftover plants. You don't want debris or anything else that might interfere with the growth of your plants in your spinach bed. You want a nice clean bed. Water it thoroughly, then cover the area with shade cloth. You will need supports of some kind to keep the cloth off the ground. The purpose of the cloth is to protect seedlings from days that may become quite warm in late summer. Now you’re ready to sow the chilled seeds in the bed you've prepared and shaded. Sow more seed than you usually do in your spring plantings. Leave the shade cloth on until the first few light frosts have come and gone then take it off and cover the tender little plants with three or four inches of straw. You can use dry leaves if you don't have straw. In the spring, when you remove the mulch, you will have an instant spinach garden! You can begin to harvest a few of the tender leaves right then, but don't get carried away; you’ll want to give the plants a chance to start growing.
By TTS Cofounder Botanical Chef Omid Jaffari