Easy-to-grow spinach even kids will eat
Spinach is a reliable winter staple in Central Texas edible gardens. It really is a gold medal-worthy plant; if you aren’t already growing it, pick up some seeds, and let’s get growing.
One of my favorite things about spinach is that my kids absolutely love to eat it. Yes, they like their spinach salads to be doused in homemade ranch dressing (and I oblige!), but they also will eat it raw and plain or sauteed with olive oil and garlic. It is very mild, yet the texture is more enjoyable to munch on than lettuce.
Spinach also packs a more nutritious punch than lettuce. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate, and a good source of magnesium, manganese, iron and vitamin B12.
But before I continue singing the praises of eating spinach, let me tell you how easy it is to grow in Central Texas this time of year. October through February is the best time to plant spinach because the cool weather and shorter daylight hours will keep it from bolting (sending up a seed stalk) too quickly.
Although spinach will grow in warmer weather, the ideal soil temperature for seed germination is 45 to 50 degrees, so planting in January is a great time to meet those germination requirements.
Because spinach seeds do not store well, purchase new seeds every year. Some of the best varieties to plant in Central Texas are Bloomsdale, Space and America. Look for the heat-tolerant varieties.
When you are ready to plant, consider planting shorter rows and leaving space for a second or third seeding every seven to 10 days. This is called succession planting and it allows you to have smaller, continual harvests instead of one large harvest.
Spinach needs nitrogen-rich, deep, loose soil, so adding compost to the soil and turning it about 8 inches down before planting is a good idea. You can also add an organic, all-purpose fertilizer of 10-10-10 to the soil at this time to boost the available nitrogen in the soil.
Using a hand trowel or hori-hori knife, create a long planting furrow in the soil about 1⁄2-inch deep. Plant one or two seeds every inch and cover loosely with soil. If you’re planting multiple rows, leave at least 18 inches between rows.
Water the seeds and continue to water daily until the seeds germinate, in about seven to 10 days. To keep the soil cool, water regularly.
After about 30 days, you can give the plants some organic nutrients by watering with seaweed or fish emulsion, but this isn’t always necessary. Your spinach leaves should be dark green and glossy.
Remember to keep weeds at bay in your edible garden by gently hand-pulling them and spreading a mulchlike straw or fallen leaves from your yard, but do not disturb the spinach roots. Because spinach is grown during cool weather, there are minimal pest concerns, but be sure to remove any discolored leaves you might find, and keep an eye out for slugs. Reduce the chances of blight or mildew on the plants by not over-watering and not working in the soil when it is wet.
In about 50 days, your spinach will be ready to harvest, which can be done a couple of different ways. For leaf or “baby” spinach, snip the outer leaves of each plant about 1 inch above the crown when the leaf is about 3 inches long. Leave the plant in the ground to continue to grow, as this enables you to continually harvest for many weeks. Once the weather gets warmer, or you notice the plants starting to send up a flower stalk, harvest the entire plant at the crown for bunched spinach.
To store leafy greens like spinach, immediately submerge the leaves in cold water to wash and cool them after harvesting. Dry them as much as possible before covering and storing in a refrigerator for 10 to 14 days.
Because spinach has a short growing season, we are able to eat and plant it simultaneously. Look for fresh, locally grown spinach at farm stands and farmers markets throughout Austin now, and go ahead and plant some seeds in your garden, too, so you can make salads right from your own backyard.
The recipe below comes from Club Homemade, a new meal prep business in Austin that sources locally grown food for its themed Monday night meal prep gatherings. Guests to the club get to learn about seasonal recipes while preparing produce for four servings to take home and cook during the week. These lively classes are taught by two women well-versed in the local farming scene. Check out upcoming classes at clubhomemade.net.
Your Do-All Dressing for Texas Salad Season
The dressing below will work for any of your winter salads, and we suggest making a double batch and saving some to top roasted chicken, fish, a bowl of noodles, or really whatever happens to land on your plate.
Miso, a fermented paste usually made from soybeans, is the secret weapon here and truly makes this dressing (and anything it touches) a thing of midnight cravings.
3 tablespoons white or yellow miso
3 tablespoons neutral oil like grapeseed or peanut oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 very heaping tablespoon honey
Combine all ingredients in a clean jar and seal with a lid. Shake until the ingredients are emulsified, then taste to see if you'd like a little more sweet (honey) or a little more sour (vinegar or lime juice).
This recipe is a wonderful gateway to dressing your salads with miso. Consider riffing off of this basic recipe and adding things like maple syrup, grated garlic, a spoon of Dijon mustard, a squeeze of hot sauce or even a dollop of yogurt. This dressing will keep for seven days in the fridge and is perfect for a week of meal prep.
Makes about 2/3 cup.
Liz Cardinal is the founder of Austin Edible Gardens, austinediblegardens.com.