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It might not turn you into Popeye, but it's time to get more spinach into you

Michael Kelly continues his 52 Veg – A Year of Growing, Cooking and Eating Your Own Food series with a versatile, leafy delight.

Michael Kelly Grower

ANNUAL SPINACH IS more inclined to bolt (produce flowers and stop growing its leaves) than perpetual spinach but it’s far tastier. Tender spinach leaves are a wonderful addition to salads.

Spinach is incredibly good for you and cooked properly can be very tasty.

The bolting problem is caused by warm, dry weather – it will fare much better in cool, damp conditions (so it’s ideal for early and late season growing).

Sowing

Given its propensity to bolt, succession sowing is the key if you want a constant supply of spinach during the season. Sow in module trays, 1.5 cm deep every three weeks from April to August.

Sow three or four seeds in each module. You can also sow direct in the soil outside if you wish, but slugs can be a problem as the tiny seedlings are getting established.

Growing

Transplant to final growing spot, leaving 25cm between rows and 7-15cm between plants (depending on whether you want baby leaves or regular ones). Spinach can be grown pretty much anywhere and doesn’t need to be included in your rotation – use it as a flexible filler and for intercropping.

Summer sowings should be done in partial shade to prevent bolting. Water copiously particularly in summer – as soon as the plant dries out, it will bolt. Apply an organic liquid feed (nettle is good – high in nitrogen) if growth seems lacklustre.

Harvesting

Spinach will be ready to harvest 8-10 weeks after sowing. Take the outer leaves first. You can also cut the entire plant off at ground level – it will sprout new leaves and you will be able to crop again in a few weeks.

shutterstock_133653647 Source: Shutterstock/Dionisvera

Recommended Varieties

Choose bolting and mildew resistant varieties such as Emilia and Tornado.

Problems

Bolting – annual spinach is far more interested in reproducing (producing flowers and seeds) than it is in producing leaves that you can eat. You may need to net seedlings from birds. Downy mildew can be an issue – it will manifest as white fluffy patches on leaves – prevent this by giving plants plenty of space.

GIY Tips

1. Small, tender spinach leaves make an excellent addition to salads

2. Summer sowings are better done direct in the soil to prevent bolting.

shutterstock_192578024 Source: Shutterstock/Gita Kulinitch Studio

Recipe of the Week – Moroccan Spinach and Beetroot Salad with Yoghurt Dressing

This beetroot salad recipe has a lovely twist- a creamy dressing made using good organic natural yoghurt. The yoghurt is mixed with garlic and cumin, and with the mint and coriander, makes it a very Moroccan-style dish.

Ingredients

For the dressing:

  • 250ml of natural Yogurt (either low fat or full fat)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, roughly ground
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad: 

  • 750g cooked beetroot
  • 250g baby spinach leaves, washed and well drained
  • A large bunch of fresh garden mint, roughly chopped
  • A large bunch of coriander roughly chopped, including leaves and stems

Directions

First make the dressing. Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste then season with salt and pepper. If you have the time, leave the dressing to infuse for an hour or so.

Take the beetroot and chop into even-sized wedges. Mix together the beetroot wedges, the washed and drained spinach with most of the chopped mint and coriander in a large serving bowl (reserve a little of the chopped herbs as a garnish).

Before serving, drizzle the dressing over the salad, and finish by sprinkling over the remaining chopped herbs.

The salad can be served on its own with crusty bread and some salty butter, or serve as a side dish with meat or fish, or as part of a range of other salads.

Note: If you have raw beetroots from the garden consider roasting them rather than boiling.

Roasting beetroots helps retain a lot of the flavour and the nutritional value, and it intensifies the flavour as well. Boiling beetroot on the other hand means most of the nutrition ends up in the water in the pot.

I generally roast beetroot with the skins on in a tinfoil parcel in the oven for approx 45 minutes (longer if the beetroot is bigger). To check if it’s cooked, stick a knife in – it should easily go through to the centre. The skins will rub off easily under the tap when it’s cooked and while still hot. When you chop the beetroot, you could also splash them with some good quality balsamic vinegar.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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