May Edibles in the Garden – The green power of spinach
True spinach (Spinacia oleracea) prefers to grow in the cooler months. The leafy stuff we grow in summer and also call spinach is actually Swiss chard, a different vegetable. True spinach has smaller and smoother leaves with a more subtle taste. However, the advantage of planting both of these easy-to-grow vegetables is a generous harvest of tasty leaves with many culinary uses all year long. If it gets too cold outside to start off new seedlings one can grow baby spinach in trays on sunny windowsills to use as mini vegetable for stir-fries or as salad greens.
Spinach is grown from seed and must be sown directly into the garden in well-composted soil that drains well, as the plant does not transplant easily because of a long taproot. It needs space to mature, so proper spacing between seedlings (at least 20 cm) is advised. If you have sown too thickly, simply thin the seedlings out and use the excess plants chopped up as fillings for sandwiches and in salads.
If you want to grow spinach indoors to blend into daily smoothies, pick a miniature seed variety and sow them thickly into deep trays or a window box filled with good quality potting soil – remember to keep the soil always just moist – it should never dry out completely. Simply snip off the baby leaves as needed, and do repeat sowings all winter long. Feed garden plants regularly with a nitrogen-rich foliage fertiliser.
Many a grown-up of today might not have fond memories of the bland, cooked spinach that their mothers forced them to eat in their childhood. Parents in the olden days where heavily influenced by the cartoon character called Popeye, who used to down canned spinach before he got into a righteous fight to save some innocent from peril. This myth, which said that the very high iron content of spinach gave you ‘super Popeye power’ has since been busted. But make no mistake, spinach is full of nutritional goodness, containing fibre, important vitamins and minerals that we need, and it is also low in calories.
Creamy spinach and onions
If you are not too worried about your waistline or feel like zooshing up your leaves with onion and some other delicious edibles from the garden, try this tasty side dish with a slight bite. It goes well with roasted pork bangers (smothered with crisp sage leaves) and mash, or as a base for poached eggs. The recipe make enough for two generous helpings.
200 g baby spinach leaves, rinsed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 mild jalapeno chilli, roughly chopped
1 cup of fresh mushrooms, sliced
Vegetable oil and a dash of butter for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60 ml thick cream
Add the chopped onions to a little oil and butter and gently fry on low heat until soft and caramelised. Add the garlic, chilli and mushrooms and stir-fry for a few minutes until all the moisture from the mushrooms has evaporated. Add the spinach, cover the pan with a lid and allow the spinach leaves to
wilt (it only takes a few minutes). Add the cream and salt and pepper to taste and allow to cook through.
Spinach is a fast crop and you will be able to start harvesting the outer leaves about 28-50 days after sowing it in the garden.
Harvest just before cooking as the leaves wilt fast. If you have an over-production of leaves, they can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days.