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Spinach
(Spinacia oleracea)


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Cultivars

Amsterdam Prickly-Seeded.

This is another vegetable for which the hybrids are squeezing the good old open-pollinated types out of the seedsmen’s catalogues. Nonetheless, after doing all the due-diligence stuff, we feel we can say that the old (Thomas Jefferson grew it) OP type Amsterdam Prickly-Seeded is the choice. It is remarkably hardy at both ends of the temperature spectrum, being reputedly quite bolt-resistant. (Bolting—going prematurely to seed—is the bane of spinach growing: many types bolt so easily that their effective growing season is a very narrow window.) The Amsterdam is also quite cold-hardy, and the commonest pattern of use for it is direct-seeding in late summer or even early autumn for harvest through autumn and fairly well into winter (but it can also be spring-sown for an early crop).

One home gardener has said of it (his full comments are linked farther below) “It has become my favorite spinach for cooking, with flavorful and tender leaves that are also good eaten raw.” As he notes, spinach seeds can be either round or prickly; apparently this type’s are especially prickly. Generally (a rule with exceptions) crinkly seeds produce smooht-leaved spinach, while smooth seeds produce crinkly-leaved spinach. Mother Nature apparently has a rich sense of humor.

Another gardener has said: “This intriguing spinach variety…is much slower to bolt than most spinach. However, it is a very hardy spinach that powers through the winter, providing fresh greens during the cold months. It is known for it’s very low germination rate, so stock up on seeds. What it lacks in germination, it makes up for in reliability and durability throughout the colder months. It will bolt in extreme heat, but it will still outlast most other varieties.”


Planting

Timing

Spinach has been shown to grow best at temperatures between 50° and 63° F. The listed days to harvest for the Amsterdam type is 40. In the spring, if we assume that the proverbial “as soon as the soil can be worked” means around March 15th, 40 days takes us to April 24th, at which time in our climate the average high is 60°, so that works out just fine. In the fall, the earliest date at which our highs drop to 63° is October 3rd, which is thus our fall-planting date. If we count 40 days on from there, we get to November 12th, on which date our average high is 42°; that is below the optimum-range lower bound of 50°, but we know this fellow is remarkably cold-hardy (some over-winter it), so we don’t worry too much, and expect we can harvest well into deep autumn and even winter.

The point of all this is not that our dates will necessarily correspond to yours: it is that it shows you how to reckon dates, given proper climate data (the getting of which we have explained elsewhere).

The Bed

A good garden soil is wanted; a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.9 is optimum (spinach grows very poorly at a pH below 6.0).

Planting Out

Spinach is normally direct-seeded. In a deep-dug or raised bed, space spinach plants at about 6 inches. Place the seed about ½ inch deep.


Growing

Keep spinach well watered. If you’re not using drip irrigation, water in the morning, so the foliage is dry before dark. Supply enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of six inches. A uniform supply of soil moisture is required for really good-quality spinach.

Seedlings typicaly emerges in about 2 weeks, and are ready for harvest after about 6 weeks from sowing. Spinach notoriously starts slowly, then accelerates during the 3 weeks or so just before harvest.

Before the freezer was commonplace, succession sowing was the norm, but today we might as well sow at the optimum time and harvest all at once. If you simply must have the occasional spinach salad, plant a little extra and harvest it on a cut-and-come-again basis—but be prepared for it to bolt in early summer (though the Amsterdam is slower to bolt than most spinaches).


More

Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful.


Odds and Ends

Biology

Spinach is another member of the useful Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot) family, which also includes beets and Swiss chard.

History

Spinach apparently arose in Persia, where it was cultivated as far back as 2,000 years ago. In old Persian, the word for spinach was aspanakh (or ispanai), meaning roughly “green hand”; by late Latin, the word had been turned to spanachia, and in English became spinage and finally “spinach”. The Arabs, who acquired knowledge of the plant from the Persians, called it “the prince of vegetables”.

It was Arab traders who carried spinach into India, and then China (probably in 647 A.D.), and, with the Moorish advances, into Spain and southern Europe; some say spinach was being grown in Spain as early as the 8th century, and it surely was by about A.D. 1100. The prickly-seeded form was known in Germany by no later than the 13th century, though the smooth-seeded form was not described till 1552. (It is the smooth-seeded form that is used in modern commercial production). By the 1300s, spinach cultivation had spread to Britain, where the vegetable was popular in religious communities, particularly during Lent.

In 1533, Catherine de’ Medici became queen of France; she so fancied spinach that she insisted it be served at every meal. Because spinach was then regarded as having a major iron content, wine fortified with spinach juice was used to treat French soldiers weakened by haemorrhage—to this day, dishes made with spinach are known as “Florentine” because Catherine came from Florence, Italy.

European settlers soon brought spinach to the New World. By 1806, spinach had become so popular vegetable here that it was regularly listed in American seed catalogs.

In modern America, spinach is considered the archetype of the good-tasting, healthful vegetable that small children dislike just because it is healthful—and has become inextricably bound up with the cartoon character Popeye the sailor, whose superhuman strength supposedly derives from his ingestion of spinach. (The simplistic animated-cartoon Popeye, to whom this legend was attached, is a very far cry from the much stranger and more adult figure—quite unconnected with spinach—who strode through the weird and surrealistic world of the late Elzie Segar’s “Thimble Theater”, the newspaper comic strip in which Popeye achieved first fame.) Several spinach-growing towns have erected statues of Popeye.

Envoi

Spinach is another of those leafy greens (like spinach) whose culinary values depend in good part on their oxalic-acid content. Most people need not be concerned about that, but those with certain conditions—kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, gout—do need to be more than ordinarily careful about oxalic acid.


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