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Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:58 pm

Grow spinach, tasty, cool and easy

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The arrival of yellow daffodils, green lawns and garden fresh salad are sure signs of spring. Leafy greens are among the easiest vegetables to grow, according to a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“You are sure to enjoy the best-tasting salad with greens that you have grown,” promised Jennifer Fishburn. “Spring greens such as spinach and lettuce are easy to grow in a full-sun to part-shade garden location or in a container garden on a patio.” Cool spring and fall temperatures are ideal for growing leafy greens.

Spinach is a cool-season crop which thrives when the average daily temperature is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This cold-hardy green can withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit but does poorly in summer. High temperatures and long days cause plants to bolt (produce a seed stalk). In addition, leaves may become bitter and have a poorer texture. For late spring plantings, look for varieties that are marked with the words “long standing” or “slow to bolt.”

Spinach can be planted as soon as the soil is prepared in the spring. Plant the seeds one-half inch deep and spaced four inches apart. If the soil was prepared in the fall, seeds can be broadcast over frozen ground or snow cover in late winter, and they will germinate as the soil thaws. A uniform supply of moisture is essential for rapid leaf development. Spinach plants have few insect and disease problems.

Spinach is a fast-growing, short-lived plant, maturing 37 to 45 days after planting. Leaves may be cut when they are large enough to use. It can be harvested as a micro-green when seedlings have one or two true leaves at about two weeks after planting. Baby greens are harvested about one month after planting.

“Spinach can be harvested two different ways,” Fishburn said. “Remove the outer leaves and allow younger leaves to develop. The other option is to harvest the whole plant when at least five or six leaves have formed. Just before serving, rinse the greens in cold water. Spinach should be eaten while fresh and crisp.”

Spinach either by itself or mixed with other greens makes a tasty salad. If cooking it, be sure to use a quick-cooking method, such as blanching, sautéing or steaming.

Spinach has a high nutritional value and is low in calories. One cup of raw spinach has only seven calories and provides 56 percent of the daily value for vitamin A and 15 percent of the daily value for vitamin C.

Strawberry spinach salad
Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches of spinach leaves
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced onions
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. Wash spinach leaves and strawberries in clear water and drain well.
  2. Remove stems from spinach leaves, tear into bite-sized pieces, and place in a large bowl.
  3. Remove stems from strawberries, slice, and add to spinach.
  4. Cover and chill until serving time.

Dressing:

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine sugar, sesame and poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika.
  2. With blender running add oil and vinegar.
  3. Chill in refrigerator.
  4. Toss spinach and strawberries with about half the dressing (reserve the rest for another recipe). Serve.

For more information on recommended varieties, growing and harvesting spinach, visit the University of Illinois Extension “Watch Your Garden Grow” website at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/veggies/.

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