True spinach (spinacia oleracea) is not the easiest of crops to grow, compared to other leafy greens, but the taste is much better. It can quickly bolt (run to seed) if the site and soil conditions are not ideal and the weather is hot and dry. Therefore, if you have trouble growing it successfully, try growing Swiss Chard instead.
Soil Type: Free-draining, water-retentive, alkaline soil.
Conditions: Full sun.
Ease of Cultivation: Difficult.
Type: Leafy Vegetable.
Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.
When to Sow: March to May.
Harvest Season: Around 8 to 14 weeks after sowing, depending on variety.
Compact plants that can be grown in the vegetable patch or in containers.
Spinach prefers a non-acid, moderately fertile, moist soil, manured in the previous autumn. Lime the soil if necessary. Both summer and winter varieties require a good nitrogen rich soil to power the leaf growth.
Soak the seed in water for twenty-four hours before sowing.
Summer varieties: Succession sow at three-week intervals, from end February to early May for a regular harvest.
Winter varieties: Sow during August and September for a spring harvest.
Sow thinly in rows 1in (2.5cm) deep, and 1ft (30cm) apart. Gradually thin out to 6 to 8in (15 to 20cm) between plants.
Keep weed free and water liberally. Spinach is prone to bolting during prolonged hot dry weather, so provide shade in summer and keep up the watering.
For over wintered crops, give a liberal application of a liquid fertiliser in early spring.
Susceptible to slugs and snails. Can be affected by downy mildew and spinach blight.
The leaves can either be picked young as 'baby leaves' and used in salads or the more mature leaves can be cooked by boiling, steaming or used in stews. Pick only the largest outer leaves and do not to strip the plant completely.
Pick regularly to ensure a constant supply of fresh young growth.
Harvest the shoots and not the leaves on winter crops.
Wash leaves thoroughly before cooking.
To boil, place in a saucepan with a little water and cook for 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. A large number of leaves will reduce to a very little amount. Drain thoroughly before serving. Season with nutmeg and butter.
Spinach is a good source of vitamins, beta-carotene, lutein, folic acid and dietary fibre. It does contain iron but not as much as that originally touted by authorities.
Spinach 'Amazon' (F1 Hybrid - RHS AGM Awarded) a fast-growing, heavy cropping variety with dark green, rounded leaves. Can be harvested in autumn and spring. Eat as 'baby leaves' or leave longer for mature leaves. Downy mildew resistant. Height and spread to 8in (20cm). Available from Van Meuwen.
Spinach 'Apollo' is a high yield variety with dark green, thick, rounded leaves. Good bolt and downy mildew resistance. Ideal for growing in containers. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach 'Helios' (F1 Hybrid) easy to grow. The dark green, smooth leaves, are best enjoyed when young. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach 'Perpetual' (Spinach Beet) ideal for growing over summer and autumn. Height to 20in (50cm), spread to 18cm (45cm). Available from Van Meuwen.
Spinach 'Medania' is a popular, reliable variety, that produces an abundance of broad, deep green leaves. Ideal for successional sowing. Good for freezing. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach 'Mikado' (F1 Hybrid) has a good upright habit. Large dark green leaves, with multiple side shoots and long stems with pink tinged bases. Good downy mildew and bolt resistance. Spring and autumn harvesting. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach 'Monnopa' has an excellent, sweet flavour and good upright habit. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach 'Picasso' (F1 Hybrid) is a dark green, semi-savoy-leaved variety. Slow to bolt. Ideal for containers. Can also be grown indoors for all-year-round 'baby leaves'. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach PV1390 'Red Veined' is a unique red vein and red stemmed variety. Excellent as a baby leaf for salads. The leaf veining becomes more pronounced as the leaves mature. Water regularly in hot spells to prevent bolting. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
Spinach 'Violin' (new F1 Hybrid) with mid-green, flat leaves. Ideal for steaming. Good downy mildew resistance. Available at Thompson and Morgan.