I am all for tender young vegetables and have written much about growing baby veg, but honestly, I’ve had it with baby leaf spinach. It is time for substance, for the crinkle and curl and the deep, dark green of a leaf that has lived. Let’s celebrate mature spinach for the fine, flavoursome thing that it is.
Baby leaf, the supermarket kind, in particular, is often bland: an almost flavourless, vaguely sweet green. Soft, easily palatable and over-marketed, in short it is baby food. Mature spinach, especially the winter kind, is an altogether different beast. This stuff is mineral-rich and tastes it: earthy and metallic.
Its leaves are thicker, so need a bit more cooking, but you need fewer to make a meal. So half a dozen plants, sown now and again later this month, will keep you in leaves until spring. The first batch should be ready to harvest around the end of October.
The early September sowing may give you a late October harvest, but the later one is mostly for early spring harvesting. These plants will sit almost dormant over December and January, when light levels are low, but will quickly resume growth in February, providing leaves through March and April, when rising temperature will cause them to bolt.
Plants need to be spaced apart, so there is sufficient air circulation, particularly on those rare warm December days, so make sure the leaves aren’t touching. This also means there are fewer hiding places for any slugs to try their luck. Space plants roughly 20cm apart in either direction in a block, or 30cm between rows and 10cm between plants.
Winter spinach does, however, need protection. An unheated greenhouse/polytunnel is ideal: sow in modules to plant out once your tomatoes/chillies/cucumbers have been harvested. If you grow it outside, you’ll need fleece or low tunnels to keep off the worst frosts. You can sow direct or in modules. If you go for modules, sow two seeds, thinning to the strongest one when they’re 5cm or so high.
Being leafy stuff, spinach loves nitrogen and does best in fertile soil. If you are planting where crops have recently been removed, make sure you add a bucket of well-rotted homemade compost to every square metre, to feed healthy growth. If you don’t have compost, add a good-quality organic feed, such as chicken manure pellets, otherwise spinach grown on thin soil will not bulk up enough before light levels drop. In early spring, it’s worth giving a liquid feed to any late September-sown plants to jolly them along.
The most well-known variety is ‘Giant Winter’, or ‘Gigante D’Inverno’, but that can be susceptible to downy mildew. Instead, look out for ‘Atlanta’, ‘Scenic F1’, ‘Tetona’ or ‘Astigiana’, all of which are bred for quick, even growth in autumn and spring.
source: The Guardian