The time has come to correct a grave injustice!
Texas A&M horticulturists, in cooperation with local
plant producers and nurserymen, have "struck a blow"
for the salad lovers of south central Texas. For years a great
injustice has been inflicted upon the gardening population
who know they should be partaking daily of a health?promoting
leafy crop in salads but are not satisfied with the home?grown
lettuce they try to produce.
Lettuce is the most widely used salad crop, even though it
is definitely not the most nutritious. It seems that even
though leaf lettuce can be successfully grown in gardens,
the experience of eating the quinine?bitter foliage is not
a happy one for most gardeners. Most gardeners, and even pill
bugs, won’t eat it. Head lettuce that is chopped and
served in most salad bars either forms flower stalks and becomes
bitter when grown in the spring, or freezes before it matures
when planted in the fall. Consequently, the majority of the
sweet salad bar lettuce is grown in coastal California where
temperatures are moderate and conducive to optimum lettuce
So what's the answer? Texas gardeners need to find a leafy
salad crop that grows here optimally, and is more nutritious
than lettuce as well. We have such a crop in spinach. Nutritionally
speaking, spinach is a super?champ of the vegetable garden.
Spinach has nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium,
Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and B?2, niacin and Vitamin C as any
other of the leafy greens. Spinach is easy to grow?? especially
in this area of Texas??since spinach plants actually thrive
in alkaline soil types and are more productive here than anywhere
else in the world. Commercial growers in this area produce
30 percent of all the spinach consumed in the United States.
Spinach can be killed by temperatures around 12 degrees F.
so the mild winter that is normally experienced in this area
of Texas, ensures insures a continuous harvest of gourmet
If all of this is true, why haven't gardeners been growing
spinach for years, and why doesn't every salad bar feature
Texas?grown spinach? The answer to both of these questions
is, “past experience”. Most people plant too early,
and even if seeds do germinate, plants soon die in the heat.
The other "experience" which keeps spinach from
being all that it should be is the childhood memories of being
force?fed spinach because "it is good for you".
Some of us made a silent, if not loudly verbal, vow that if
we ever lived to reach voting age we would NEVER eat spinach
again! Because of those horrors of youth and a lot of negative
conditioning, we are punishing our bodies and our palates
by ignoring the best tasting, most nutritious salad crop in
Spinach is classified as a "very hardy cool season
crop." Although it can be grown almost anywhere in the
Unites States, it does best at mean temperatures of 50 to
60 degrees F. If planted in late spring, with lengthening
days and the approach of hot weather, the plant will quickly
form a flower stalk, going to seed after the development of
only a few leaves.
Spinach is a cool?season crop with seed that germinates
very poorly, if at all, in hot soils. Therefore, to avoid
a poor stand, the first planting should occur when soil temperatures
are 85 degrees F. or below. As mentioned earlier, gardeners
have had bad luck growing spinach because they ignored this
growing requirement. People plant fall gardens in August and
September and are actually harvesting fall produce before
spinach planting should even be considered. Gardeners are
out of the planting mood when optimum spinach planting time
arrives. They are discouraged by the zero success of earlier
spinach planting attempts so they bypass the opportunity of
planting the most nutritious, Texas-salad vegetable--spinach.
Gardeners have struggled with trying to grow spinach plants
successfully. Planting seed during adverse growing conditions
accounts for the main problem, but hungry pillbugs (sowbugs),
snails and soil fungus have also killed a lot of spinach seedlings.
An obvious answer is a larger, tougher seedling in the form
of a transplant. Tough-stemmed transplants are more resistant
to damping off fungus that causes stem rotting. Where soil
fungus damage has been a problem, use captan (Orthocide) fungicide
dust in the planting furrow, with the covering soil and on
the soil surface around the plant. Pillbugs (sowbugs) and
snails should be eradicated, even if transplants are used,
by applying garden?approved baits at planting time and for
several weeks (7 to 10 day intervals) thereafter.
An easy?to?grow spinach transplant is now available in local
nurseries. It is the Texas A&M recommended, disease?resistant
variety named Coho. Spinach varieties are available in flat?leaved,
semi?crinkle?leaved (semi?savoy) and crinkle?leaved (savoy)
types. The flat?leaved types are preferred for canning and
the crinkle?leaved types are best for fresh use. Because of
the fungus diseases that damage spinach growth and leaf appearance,
only certain varieties are recommended. The disease resistant
variety that is now available is Coho. This variety performs
best if transplanted between October 15th and January 1st.
Spinach transplants should be planted in rows on top of
raised planting beds. Planting in rows is preferable since
weeds that emerge near the spinach plants can be more easily
removed. Transplants should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart.
Because most people will want a continuous supply of garden?fresh
spinach salad, many transplants will be required. To save
some money on the purchase of transplants, shop around for
a cooperative nurseryman who will sell transplants cheaper
if you buy in quantity or by the flat (96 transplants). For
all of you non?gardening types, plan to transplant some spinach
into a sunny flowerbed or patio container so you too can eat
yourself to health. Spinach will tolerate and produce in a
partially shaded planting location, and produce a fair crop
with less than full sunlight.
About 2 weeks after transplanting, you should stimulate
the growth of the spinach with a light application of nitrogen
fertilizer. Use about ½ pound of ammonium sulfate (21?0?0)
for each 30-foot row of planted spinach. Apply the fertilizer
to the soil near the side of the plants and then water it
Approximately 6 to 8 weeks after planting, depending upon
the weather, it's harvest time. You'll note that as the weather
cools down your spinach will take a little longer to fully
mature and will grow more upright. Generally, spinach that
matures when temperatures average between 50 degrees and 60
degrees F. will be fuller-bodied with thicker, more tender
Periodic harvesting can occur by removing the older, outer
leaves, thus assuring a continuous supply and stimulating
the plants to initiate more leaves. A mass-harvest method
that works quite well is to harvest all spinach plant foliage
above the crown with a sharp knife, leaving the crown or growing
point of the plant and roots in place so that a second crop
can be produced by the same plant. A light application of
fertilizer (ammonium sulfate) and watering should follow this
type of harvest to encourage new leaf growth.
This IS the month to plant the most nutritious garden vegetable--spinach.
And now that you know how and have the right transplant to
assure spinach growing success, the fault of malnutrition
is yours only if you don't plant this most healthful of the