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Spinach Transplants

The time has come to correct a grave injustice!

Texas A&M horticulturists, in cooperation with local plant producers and nurserymen, have "struck a blow" for the salad lovers of south central Texas. For years a great injustice has been inflicted upon the gardening population who know they should be partaking daily of a health?promoting leafy crop in salads but are not satisfied with the home?grown lettuce they try to produce.

Lettuce is the most widely used salad crop, even though it is definitely not the most nutritious. It seems that even though leaf lettuce can be successfully grown in gardens, the experience of eating the quinine?bitter foliage is not a happy one for most gardeners. Most gardeners, and even pill bugs, won’t eat it. Head lettuce that is chopped and served in most salad bars either forms flower stalks and becomes bitter when grown in the spring, or freezes before it matures when planted in the fall. Consequently, the majority of the sweet salad bar lettuce is grown in coastal California where temperatures are moderate and conducive to optimum lettuce growth.

So what's the answer? Texas gardeners need to find a leafy salad crop that grows here optimally, and is more nutritious than lettuce as well. We have such a crop in spinach. Nutritionally speaking, spinach is a super?champ of the vegetable garden. Spinach has nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and B?2, niacin and Vitamin C as any other of the leafy greens. Spinach is easy to grow?? especially in this area of Texas??since spinach plants actually thrive in alkaline soil types and are more productive here than anywhere else in the world. Commercial growers in this area produce 30 percent of all the spinach consumed in the United States. Spinach can be killed by temperatures around 12 degrees F. so the mild winter that is normally experienced in this area of Texas, ensures insures a continuous harvest of gourmet quality product.

If all of this is true, why haven't gardeners been growing spinach for years, and why doesn't every salad bar feature Texas?grown spinach? The answer to both of these questions is, “past experience”. Most people plant too early, and even if seeds do germinate, plants soon die in the heat. The other "experience" which keeps spinach from being all that it should be is the childhood memories of being force?fed spinach because "it is good for you". Some of us made a silent, if not loudly verbal, vow that if we ever lived to reach voting age we would NEVER eat spinach again! Because of those horrors of youth and a lot of negative conditioning, we are punishing our bodies and our palates by ignoring the best tasting, most nutritious salad crop in the world.

Spinach is classified as a "very hardy cool season crop." Although it can be grown almost anywhere in the Unites States, it does best at mean temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees F. If planted in late spring, with lengthening days and the approach of hot weather, the plant will quickly form a flower stalk, going to seed after the development of only a few leaves.

Spinach is a cool?season crop with seed that germinates very poorly, if at all, in hot soils. Therefore, to avoid a poor stand, the first planting should occur when soil temperatures are 85 degrees F. or below. As mentioned earlier, gardeners have had bad luck growing spinach because they ignored this growing requirement. People plant fall gardens in August and September and are actually harvesting fall produce before spinach planting should even be considered. Gardeners are out of the planting mood when optimum spinach planting time arrives. They are discouraged by the zero success of earlier spinach planting attempts so they bypass the opportunity of planting the most nutritious, Texas-salad vegetable--spinach.

Gardeners have struggled with trying to grow spinach plants successfully. Planting seed during adverse growing conditions accounts for the main problem, but hungry pillbugs (sowbugs), snails and soil fungus have also killed a lot of spinach seedlings. An obvious answer is a larger, tougher seedling in the form of a transplant. Tough-stemmed transplants are more resistant to damping off fungus that causes stem rotting. Where soil fungus damage has been a problem, use captan (Orthocide) fungicide dust in the planting furrow, with the covering soil and on the soil surface around the plant. Pillbugs (sowbugs) and snails should be eradicated, even if transplants are used, by applying garden?approved baits at planting time and for several weeks (7 to 10 day intervals) thereafter.

An easy?to?grow spinach transplant is now available in local nurseries. It is the Texas A&M recommended, disease?resistant variety named Coho. Spinach varieties are available in flat?leaved, semi?crinkle?leaved (semi?savoy) and crinkle?leaved (savoy) types. The flat?leaved types are preferred for canning and the crinkle?leaved types are best for fresh use. Because of the fungus diseases that damage spinach growth and leaf appearance, only certain varieties are recommended. The disease resistant variety that is now available is Coho. This variety performs best if transplanted between October 15th and January 1st.

Spinach transplants should be planted in rows on top of raised planting beds. Planting in rows is preferable since weeds that emerge near the spinach plants can be more easily removed. Transplants should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart. Because most people will want a continuous supply of garden?fresh spinach salad, many transplants will be required. To save some money on the purchase of transplants, shop around for a cooperative nurseryman who will sell transplants cheaper if you buy in quantity or by the flat (96 transplants). For all of you non?gardening types, plan to transplant some spinach into a sunny flowerbed or patio container so you too can eat yourself to health. Spinach will tolerate and produce in a partially shaded planting location, and produce a fair crop with less than full sunlight.

About 2 weeks after transplanting, you should stimulate the growth of the spinach with a light application of nitrogen fertilizer. Use about ½ pound of ammonium sulfate (21?0?0) for each 30-foot row of planted spinach. Apply the fertilizer to the soil near the side of the plants and then water it in lightly.

Approximately 6 to 8 weeks after planting, depending upon the weather, it's harvest time. You'll note that as the weather cools down your spinach will take a little longer to fully mature and will grow more upright. Generally, spinach that matures when temperatures average between 50 degrees and 60 degrees F. will be fuller-bodied with thicker, more tender leaves.

Periodic harvesting can occur by removing the older, outer leaves, thus assuring a continuous supply and stimulating the plants to initiate more leaves. A mass-harvest method that works quite well is to harvest all spinach plant foliage above the crown with a sharp knife, leaving the crown or growing point of the plant and roots in place so that a second crop can be produced by the same plant. A light application of fertilizer (ammonium sulfate) and watering should follow this type of harvest to encourage new leaf growth.

This IS the month to plant the most nutritious garden vegetable--spinach. And now that you know how and have the right transplant to assure spinach growing success, the fault of malnutrition is yours only if you don't plant this most healthful of the vegetable crops.


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