When growing spinach (Spinacia oleracea), the trick lies in making it last as long as possible. It has similar growing conditions as lettuce, but is more versatile in both its ability to be eaten cooked or raw and its nutrition. It is rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A, B, and C, and a great healthy food loaded with antioxidants providing many health benefits.
When to plant spinach
Spinach is a cool weather plant and requires temperatures under 24°C. In hot summer months, the plant grows a seed stalk (bolt) because it is very sensitive to heat. Therefore, it’s better to plant early and frequently, in the cooler months. You can plant the spinach varieties that are common in Zambia such as Space and Tyee in summer which are bolt-resistant. However, you have to plant them under partial shade, mulch and give lots of water.
Preparing the soil
Spinach grows well in slightly alkaline soil (pH 6.5-7.5). It also needs well-drained soil. Therefore, plough the soil to a depth of 20cm and then harrow the soil and level it. Make small trenches so that when watering the water will flow along the trenches. Add compost and manure or high nitrogen fertilizer and work in the soil. Try to prepare the soil about a week before planting.
You need to plant spinach seeds directly into the ground . You can propagate the seedlings in advance, but it’s not recommended to grow spinach from seedlings as they are difficult to transplant due to shallow root system.
Plant the seeds about 15 to 20 cm apart and about 20 mm deep. If the soil is light 20mm is the correct depth. If the soil is heavy, plant the seed closer to the surface because the germinating seed will struggle to reach the surface. Spinach seeds will take about 10 to 20 days to germinate depending on the weather conditions. Therefore, to ensure you have a continual supply of spinach per season, try to plant a batch of seed every three weeks. Once you’ve planted, you should water the seed until the soil is moist. Mulch the plants.
As the seedlings start to appear above the ground, water them using running water in the trenches. Spinach leaves are susceptible to diseases if the leaves get wet so, try as much as possible to water under leaf. You also need to fertilize your spinach every second week with a dose of nitrogen rich fertilizer and water it into the ground. The fertilizer helps boost the growth of the leaves.
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Pests and Diseases that attack spinach plants include:
- Downy mildew causes yellow spots on leaf surfaces and occurs during the rainy season.
- Leafminer larvae produce tan patches. Slugs eat spinach.
- Monitor for aphids regularly and remove them with a stream of water.
Spinach companion plants
You can grow cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, celery, onion, beans and peas in the same bed as spinach.
Spinach takes about 8-10 weeks to grow. However, you can harvest from about 35 days after sowing the seeds. The best way to do is, is to start by harvesting the outer, older leaves first and then gradually working your way in to the center of the plant as those leaves mature.
Don’t wait too long to harvest, because once the plant matures, spinach will taste bitter and the plant will start flowering.