Perhaps the two easiest plants to grow in a vegetable garden are radishes and spinach. Radishes germinate and grow to maturity very quickly but as vegetables they are difficult to get excited about. A radish has its own beauty best understood by other radishes. Growing spinach is more profitable because it is almost as easy as radish growing but the final product is much more acceptable. Spinach can even be found growing wild in many countries, having seeded itself and made its own way in life without any attention at all.
When grown in formal vegetable gardens spinach can be sown throughout the year in mild climates, or from Spring to Summer in colder climes. Seeds can be planted in trays or straight into the ground and should germinate in ten to fourteen days. When they are about five centimetres high the plants should be thinned out or transplanted into rows. The plants should be roughly twenty centimetres apart in rows and the rows about sixty centimetres apart. Harvesting of leaves can begin after forty days and continue until the plant runs to seed.
The vegetable does not do well in too much shade but will grow in sunny conditions or semi-shade. It is best if soil is well fertilized or composted. Being a broad leaved plant it enjoys nitrogen in order to produce luscious dark green leaves with red or white stalks.
Various types of green leafy plants are known as spinach though they may not strictly be the vegetable spinacia oleracea. In different countries there might be different varieties and even different plants that are used. For example there is a variety known as ‘New Zealand’ spinach and in Africa a very tasty plant called ‘mfena’ in Zulu is gathered from fields and boiled.
The classic plant known as Beta Vulgaris or Swiss Chard, is a hardy plant with thick leaves and stalks, commonly eaten as a boiled vegetable. It is difficult to beat as a hardy and prolific vegetable that will grow in winter or summer producing many leaves and finally seed that can be stored and planted. ‘Rainbow’ varieties have been bred with red and yellow stalks. They can be grown with flowers as plants that have the advantage of being both edible and decorative. As plants they tend to be less robust than their greener cousins.
Beetroot leaves can also be used as a substitute. They are slightly different in flavor but when mixed together the difference can hardly be noticed. In fact the beet leaves might be said to add to the flavor of other leaves.
The many ways in which the vegetable is cooked and eaten is probably testament to its credentials as a nutritious food. It is known to be very rich in iron and in vitamins, particularly Vitamin A and K and B6. It also has anti-oxidants and is so good for people that efforts have been made over many years to include it in dishes. It is often creamed and mixed with feta cheese and even included in pies, with cheese.
English people have probably been growing spinach for about five hundred years since the word came into the language. However it certainly has a much longer culinary pedigree. It could have been cultivated in Arabia and China more than a thousand years ago. It is well known that when Catherine Medici became queen of France in 1533 she was so fond of the vegetable that she had it cooked every day. Dishes made with the greens are still called ‘Florentine’ because that queen was born in Florence, Italy.