Spinach is a fast grower and a heavy feeder, requiring high levels of nitrogen, says Thilaka Baskaran
Spinach or ‘palak' is a leafy green vegetable that grows throughout the year in Bangalore.
Originating in Persia, it was brought to India by Arab traders. It was introduced to China through Nepal, and reached England and France only in the 14th century. Catherine de Medici, a French queen, fancied spinach so much that she wanted it at every meal. To this day, European dishes with spinach are known as ‘a la Florentine' referring to Catherine's birth in Florence.
Moisture and nitrogen
Spinach grows well in full sun or in partial shade. Make sure the beds are enriched with compost and well drained. The soil can be conditioned with coco peat to retain moisture. The plant is a fast grower and so, is a heavy feeder, requiring high levels of nitrogen. A handful of fish and bone meal in the soil could be helpful.
Soaking the seeds in water for 12 hours before planting quickens germination. Sow thinly in rows about 30 cm apart or mix the seeds in a handful of sand and scatter on the prepared bed. Cover lightly with soil and water well. Keep the soil moist till germination, which is in about 10 days.
Bolting from heat
In warm weather, spinach ‘bolts' and goes to seed quickly. So, it is better to grow just 10 to 12 plants at four to six weeks' interval rather than have one big patch.
While harvesting, pick the outermost leaves when they are large enough, leaving the inner leaves to grow. You can also cut the whole plant, 3 cm above the base, and it will put out a flush of new leaves. Make sure you top dress with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer after each harvest.
If space is a problem, you can grow them in containers. However, you will need to water more frequently as containers dry out faster.
Eat it fresh
Spinach is an excellent source of nutrients, especially vitamins A, C, E and K and folic acid. It contains fairly high levels of iron and calcium, but the human body is capable of absorbing only a fraction of it. Spinach can be used raw in salads, stir fried, cooked with dal, meat or paneer, or added to soups, omelettes or savouries. This vegetable freezes well; so, if you have a bumper harvest, you can blanch and freeze for future use.
The cartoon character Popeye popularised spinach, but too bad he was shown eating it out of a can. Fresh spinach is tastier and more nutritious.