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by Diana Roberts
Category: Vegetables
I recently introduced my dad to spinach salad and he absolutely loved it! As he said, we only used it as a cooked vegetable, not as a salad green. Well times have changed, but the way we grow spinach and the benefits to our health are not so different than they were 60 years ago.
Spinach contains iron, calcium, vitamin A and protein, which is better protected if this vegetable is eaten raw, such as in a salad. Spinach should be grown in rich, well-drained, moist soil for the best results. When planting spinach in fertile soil, no fertilizer will be necessary. If you find that the growth is slow or light green, you may need to side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer. A garden that is worked up and ready to go in the fall can have the seeds sowed while the ground is still frozen (or even when there is a little snow still over the garden!). The seeds will germinate as soon as the ground thaws.
It is important to plant spinach early in the year as they are a cool weather crop which will bolt (start flowering) during the long, warm days of summer. When spinach bolts, you may as well get rid of the plant as it will quit leaf production and all its energy will go into seed production. Any leaves which do grow will be small and not so nice.
Itís a good idea to sow a new batch of spinach 2-3 times during early to late spring so you will have a continuous crop. You may want to sow more seeds later in the summer as well. Give the late crop 50-60 days before the first frost of fall. Normally spinach can be harvested 40-50 days after sowing. Germination of seeds will take 7-21 days depending on the conditions. Sow the seeds at a rate of 12-15 seeds per foot of row and cover them with Ĺ inch of soil. When the seedlings are an inch tall, thin them to 2-4 inches apart. You can space the plants closer if you plan on harvesting the entire plant. When growing spinach in raised beds they need only be 4-6 inches apart in all directions.
There are of course always tricks to getting seeds to germinate better and quicker. Many people find they have only so-so luck with spinach seed germination. One way to improve your odds of germination is to put cardboard over newly planted beds. You must however keep a close eye on the beds and take the cardboard off as soon as the sprouts come through the soil. Do not take the cardboard off on a sunny day or you will fry your new sprouts.
When thinning your plants late, you can harvest the whole plant to use. If you are using the whole plant, they are best cut young while they are still tender. Cut them at or just below the soil level. Spinach can be harvested as soon as the leaves look ready, or when the rosettes have 5-6 leaves each. Some people prefer to harvest when the leaves are 3 inches long and allow the smaller leaves to continue to grow. Harvest the entire crop when the seed stalks start to form because the leaves will deteriorate in quality and are much smaller in size.
We all remember the e.coli problem of last summer where at least one person died and many had serious health problems associated with eating spinach. It seems that they have tracked the problem to manure used to grow organic crops of spinach. They are allowed to use manure after only three weeks of composting, which doesnít seem to be long enough. I have always used manure that was composted for at least one year in my own gardens. To be on the safe side, manure should compost a year but farmers donít leave it that long most times because nitrogen gasses off in the air and is lost. So to be on the safe side, use manure which is at least one year composted or use your own garden compost.
If you want to try spinach salad, I have a couple of different ways I make it. The first recipe calls for spinach, fresh sliced mushrooms, sliced boiled eggs, grated mozzarella cheese and chopped onions. The dressing is made with (approximately) 2 parts sour cream or plain yogurt, 1 part olive oil, 1 part vinegar and any spices you like. (This recipe was taught to me by a chef who at one time cooked for Pierre Trudeau). The other recipe I use contains spinach, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onion and fried oysters. The dressing for this salad is made from balsamic vinegar and olive oil (to taste). Fry the oysters, mix the dressing into the salad and put on each plate, and then place the oysters around the outside of the plate and sprinkle with some fresh parmesan cheese. This may sound a little strange, but it is delicious!

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