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Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:42 am

It’s time to grow spinach

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The arrival of spring is a sure sign of yellow daffodils, green lawns and garden fresh salad. This spring try growing leafy greens, one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

You are sure to enjoy the best tasting salad with greens that you have grown. 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. However, spinach cannot withstand hot summer days. High temperatures and long days cause plants to bolt, or 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.

The first planting of spinach can be made as soon as the soil is prepared in the spring. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep and spaced 4 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 to produce rapid leaf development. Spinach plants have few insect and disease problems.

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

Spinach can be harvested two different ways. You can 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 greens in cold water. Spinach should be eaten while fresh and crisp.

Spinach either stand-alone or mixed with other greens makes a great salad. If cooking spinach, 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.

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

Contact Jennifer Fishburn at Fishburn@illinois.edu


Strawberry spinach salad

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

Wash spinach leaves and strawberries in clear water and drain well. Remove stems from spinach leaves, tear into bite-sized pieces, and place in a large bowl.

Remove stems from strawberries, slice, and add to spinach. Cover and chill until serving time.

Dressing:
In a blender or food processor, combine sugar, sesame and poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika.

With blender running, add oil and vinegar. Chill in refrigerator.

Toss spinach and strawberries with about half the dressing (reserve the rest for another recipe). Serve.

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