Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Power plant: Spinach

Plant this healthy green that packs a Popeye-like nutritional wallop

Besides big muscles, Popeye likely had healthy eyes. Research has shown that spinach is one of the richest vegetable sources of lutein, a natural plant pigment that protects the eyes against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Nutritionists suggest that six to 12 milligrams of lutein be consumed daily; just one cup of cooked spinach contains 13 milligrams. The high folic acid content of spinach may help prevent heart disease. No wonder Popeye ate his spinach.

Spinach (Brassica perviridis) is a cool-weather crop originally grown in fall and winter in the fertile valleys of the Middle East. In North America, it grows best in the shorter days of early spring and fall, since days lasting 14 hours or more trigger spinach to go to seed. Hot weather speeds up the flowering process and makes the leaves tough and dry.

Spinach varieties
Spinach varieties have three different types of leaves: smooth, savoy (crinkly, curly) and semi-savoy. While some say the smooth leaves are tastier, others prefer savoy. The main advantage of savoy is that it's more winter hardy.

Planting seeds
For a spring crop, plant four to six weeks before your last frost. Choose varieties that are slow to bolt. Sow successive crops every two weeks until daytime temperatures rise above 18°C and days begin to lengthen.

Spinach needs a fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of around 6.5. If the soil is too acidic, spinach won't grow properly, and if it's too alkaline, the plants may develop a magnesium deficiency. Prepare the bed by digging in generous amounts of compost or composted manure.

Plant the seeds 2.5 centimetres apart, one centimetre deep, in rows 30 centimetres apart. In heavy clay, cover the seeds with sifted compost to prevent the surface from crusting. Keep the seedbed moist. When the leaves of the seedlings begin to touch, thin them to 7.5 centimetres apart and later to 15 centimetres.

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