Although I loved Popeye and the cast of characters as a kid, my nose would wrinkle immediately at the sight of spinach on my plate, especially when it came out of a can. Mom tried the “look what it does for Popeye” argument, but to no avail.
Move forward forty years and the situation, and my tastebuds, have changed. I still don’t like cooked spinach, but in a mixed salad or on its own, with crumbled bacon and cheese of course, fresh spinach is very good. And don’t get me started on the virtues of spinach dip at parties!
Not only is spinach good, but it’s very good for you. Spinach is a powerhouse of nutrition, containing iron, thiamin, potassium, folic acid as well as Vitamins A and C. It’s also a good source of the carotenids lutein and zeaxanthin, which help prevent the formation of cataracts in your eyes as you age.
Spinach is a cool season crop, so in the Okanagan it’s important to get it seeded early so it can mature before the intense heat of summer arrives. It can be seeded outdoors as soon as the soil is ready to work, which is hopefully very soon. Spinach matures quickly, anywhere from 30 to 45 days depending on the variety. Like lettuce or radishes, planting a new row or block every seven to ten days for a month will give you a continuous supply through the spring and early summer.
Spinach enjoys a light, but not sandy soil, so work some organic matter into the soil if you think it might need a boost. Seed can be sown thinly in rows or in blocks. It can be grown in containers, or sown amongst perennials in a border as a filler plant. You might consider sowing seed amongst peas, to take advantage of the light shade that pea vines provide and to better utilize garden space.
The faster spinach grows the better it tastes, to be sure to provide adequate amounts of fertilizer, especially nitrogen, to the developing crop. Water soluble products like fish fertilizer are perfect, or you can use granular fertilizers such as organic blood meal or 21-0-0 as a side dressing along maturing plants. Keep the growing plants well-watered and cultivate lightly, as spinach is shallow rooted.
Harvest by cutting individual leaves, or chop the whole plant down and wait for it to grow back. You can enjoy spinach-like flavour in the heat of summer if you grow Malabar Spinach. While not a true spinach it’s a vining plant that grows quickly up to several feet. Plant the seeds indoors now or look for mature plants later this spring in the garden centre.
Spinach can be grown for a fall or early winter harvest. Sow seeds indoors in August and then plant it out in the garden. You’ll enjoy spinach through September and October and perhaps even later if you use a cold frame or a greenhouse tunnel over the beds to keep the frost at bay. Popeye would be very pleased.