In Australia we often call silverbeet ‘spinach’, but confusing silverbeet with spinach is a bit like mistaking fake grass for lawn. True spinach has a smooth, delicate flavour that blends with many other mild foods, while silverbeet’s stronger taste means that it can sometimes overwhelm more delicate flavours.

Spinach loves the cold, so it’s one of the most popular vegie choices for autumn sowing. It grows readily from seed and the Yates variety called Winter Queen is ideal for this time of year.

Spinach seeds are best sown straight into a ready-prepared garden bed. That way, you avoid the transplant shock that can harm the seedlings if you have to move them from nursery pots into the garden.

Spinach prefers a rich, rather heavy soil, so dig in plenty of organic matter (compost or aged manure) before sowing. Acid soils (those where azaleas and camellias flourish) will also appreciate the addition of some Yates Garden Lime which will sweeten the soil to the spinach’s liking. Make sure there’s plenty of nitrogen in the soil by adding some Dynamic Lifter pellets or some Yates Blood & Bone.

Spinach seeds are a good size so are relatively easy to handle. Sow clumps of 2 – 3 seeds and water well after they’re safely in. Germination takes between one and three weeks, depending on weather conditions. Remove excess seedlings, keeping only the strongest in each clump.

Make sure the spinach doesn’t dry out and feed every couple of weeks with Thrive Soluble Plant Food. It has a high nitrogen content that will keep the plants moving along as fast as possible. Pest problems are usually minimal but watch out for snails and slugs – Blitzem or Baysol pellets will give some protection. If you don’t want to use pellets, you can create a protective wall for each plant by cutting top and bottom from a plastic bottle or jar. Place the plastic cylinder over the platn and push it into the soil so the spinach seedling is completely surrounded. A layer of straw mulch will help retain moisture around the root area and will also, by reducing mud splash, keep the leaves cleaner.

Well fed and watered spinach grows quite quickly and can be ready to pick in as little as 8-10 weeks. In very cold weather, however, growth may be slower.

An interesting addition to Yates seed range in recent years has been Baby Leaf Spinach. This variety has been bred to produce those small, tender leaves that are eaten raw in salads. It’s even faster and can be ready to harvest in about 6 to 7 weeks.

Spinach should be cooked very gently. Boiling will destroy much of its food value so, instead, it’s far better to wash the leaves and lightly steam them using the remnants of the washing water to provide moisture. If cooked in this way, spinach will retain plenty of its intrinsic goodness.

Spinach is rich in vitamins A and B and many other health-promoting nutrients. It’s versatile, too, as it can be used as a side vegetable or in soups and salads. With its delicate flavour, spinach is often used as an additive to omelettes and quiches. Keep an eye out for recipes with the word Florentine in their name – this usually indicates that spinach is a major ingredient.


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