Today we want to talk about sowing and cultivation of spinach. As shown in the September calendar, this is the ideal time to start sowing this plant, as it prefers the cooler periods of the year to grow lush.
In this article, we will look at the nutritional properties and health benefits of Spinacia oleracea. We will also make an important distinction between consuming cooked and raw spinach. Finally, we will explain how to sow and cultivate them organically in your home garden or even in pots on the balcony, to always have this essential vegetable available for a natural diet.
Characteristics of the Spinach Plant
Spinach, scientifically known as Spinacia oleracea, is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Chenopodiaceae family.
It is a plant of Arab origin, used and cultivated since ancient times. Currently, it is grown from north to south in our country, especially in regions such as Lazio, Campania, Tuscany, Veneto, and Piedmont.
Spinach is composed of a set of leaves, approximately 20-30. These leaves, gathered in a rosette shape, develop from the base to the emergence of the floral scape.
Typically, in spinach cultivation, the basal leaves are large and fleshy. They have a long petiole and a blade that can be savoy or smooth, depending on the variety.
The leaf color, also depending on the variety, ranges from light green to dark green.
Spinach develops a deep reddish fibrous root at the collar. It is an annual plant that goes to seed after a certain period, depending on the cultivation season. Spinach flowers are very small, greenish in color. They can be female, present in axillary clusters, or male, gathered in spikes.
Now let’s see which are the main varieties that can be cultivated and which are most suitable for different seasons.
Spinach Cultivation: Varieties and Seasons
In general, spinach cultivation prefers a cool climate. The ideal period is autumn-winter and the one between the end of winter and spring. The thermal requirements of this plant are low. It is a so-called long-day plant, meaning it produces flowers and seeds very quickly when the daylight exceeds 14 hours. For this reason, it is better not to cultivate it in late spring and during the peak of summer. However, there are different varieties of spinach to be cultivated, each with its particular characteristics, suitable for different seasons.Let’s see what these different varieties are:
- Giant of winter: This variety, as the name suggests, is particularly suitable for autumn and even winter sowings. It has very large and blistered, fleshy leaves of dark green color.
- Matador: It is one of the best varieties to cultivate from spring to early summer. It takes longer to go to seed, making it suitable for the spring season. This variety has large, broad, and dark leaves that grow rapidly. It also has excellent resistance to intense cold, so it can be grown in autumn as well.
- Viraflay variety: This variety can be considered “four seasons.” However, it expresses its best characteristics when sown in autumn, with harvesting in November-December. It has very large, tender, and tasty leaves, which can reach up to 25 cm in width at the base. This ancient variety, given its extreme vigor, is still sought after and appreciated by growers.
Nutritional Aspects of Spinach
In considering the nutritional aspects and health benefits of spinach for the body, we will refer to consumption as it is, meaning raw spinach, ideal as a base for mixed salads. Raw consumption preserves all the nutritional values we are referring to. As a result, the beneficial properties for the body are greater. Spinach is a food rich in elements. Today, it is famous for its iron content, although iron is not the main nutrient. An error in a publication from the late 1800s attributed a value of 30 mg of iron per 100 g of spinach instead of the actual 3 mg, which is 10 times less. This high value became legendary thanks to the Popeye comic strip, and the ability attributed to spinach to form muscles. But let’s see what the actual nutritional values are.
First of all, raw spinach contains only 31 kcal per 100 g, so it can be consumed without limitations in a low-calorie diet. The interesting data, referring to 100 g, concerns the high protein content (3.4 g) and fiber content (1.9 g). Spinach contains vitamins, particularly vitamin A as retinol eq. (485 µg), vitamin C (54 mg). They are also very rich in minerals: iron (2.9 mg), sodium (100 mg), potassium (530 mg), calcium (78 mg), phosphorus (62 mg), magnesium (60 mg), zinc (1.43 mg), copper, and selenium in smaller quantities.
The high content of insoluble fibers makes it a real panacea for intestinal problems. These fibers increase fecal mass, thereby improving intestinal transit and preventing constipation. The iron contained in spinach, as well as in other plant-based foods, is of non-heme type. Unlike heme iron found in meat, it is not easily absorbed by the body. To improve its absorption, it is recommended to combine it with foods containing vitamin C, such as a lemon dressing.
Contraindications of Spinach in Some Individuals
Despite the many properties of spinach cultivation, excessive consumption can lead to contraindications in some individuals. This vegetable, in fact, contains a lot of calcium and calcium oxalate. In predisposed people, this can lead to the formation of kidney stones. Another contraindication is for individuals taking an anticoagulant. The vitamin K1 contained in spinach aids in coagulation and can compete with the medication. This indication naturally applies not only to spinach but also to many green leafy vegetables, which are prohibited for those taking medication such as Coumadin (Warfarin Sodium). For further information, refer to this link.
Sowing and Cultivation of Spinach
The cultivation of spinach can be done directly by broadcasting the seeds. This is because the plant has a certain germination speed. As a result, it does not suffer from the immediate and simultaneous presence of weeds, which would hinder its initial growth. The seed should be buried at about 1/2 cm deep, just below the soil surface. To facilitate immediate seed germination, the soil should be finely worked and moist, so that the seedlings can start growing immediately.Spinach cultivation adapts to any type of soil, as long as it has a good supply of organic matter. The recommendation for the intensity of sowing is to use 50 grams of seed per 10 square meters. The first operation to be done is thinning the seeds to avoid accumulations that could hinder the plant’s development, as shown in the photo below, an example of too dense sowing.
Ideally, the seeds should be thinned to have a distance of at least 10 cm between each plant. This will allow you to make the best use of the growth potential of each plant.
Regarding irrigation, make sure that the soil is always moist but without waterlogging. Water stagnation can block growth and cause rot. Another essential operation, after the first thinning, and to be repeated periodically, is weeding, meaning the removal of weeds. For proper development, spinach needs air in the soil and sufficient space, which is limited by the excessive presence of weeds. Since spinach is a plant that can be easily cultivated in pots, all the indications above apply to cultivation in the garden on the balcony.
Spinach cultivation generally ends after 40-60 days from sowing, depending on the season and the chosen variety. Harvesting can be done in two ways:
- By cutting the entire plant at the base
- Gradually picking the individual basal leaves, starting with the largest ones, to have more harvests and better exploit the plant’s ability to produce new shoots.
Biological Pest Control
Spinach itself is a robust plant that does not suffer much from parasite attacks. Moreover, it is cultivated during times of the year when the presence of parasites is limited. What can worry spinach are snails, avid devourers of the leaves. A simple technique is to fill bowls with beer, which will work as traps for massive capture.
Another pest to keep under control is the black aphid, especially during spring cultivation.
Aphids can be kept under control by using nettle macerate preventively, which also acts as organic fertilizer, beneficial for plant growth.
- North Carolina State University, Lenoir County Center: “Spinach and Its Remarkable Benefits” – This resource discusses the nutritional benefits of spinach, which is a good source of vitamin K, known for improving bone health.
- University of Rhode Island: “Make like Popeye: The powerful benefits of spinach” – This resource discusses the vitamins found in spinach, including a form of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and folate.
- University of Nebraska–Lincoln: “Spinach” – This resource discusses the nutrition and health benefits of spinach, which is high in vitamin A, which helps keep eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.
- University of Delaware: “January: Spinach” – This resource discusses the minerals found in spinach, which is a good source of both calcium and potassium. It also has a high water content that is great for hydration.