Spinach is not only full of flavour, but full of goodness too! It’s high in iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and is low in calories – so good for the waistline too! What most of us eat as spinach is usually Swiss chard because it is so much more available, being easier to grow, heat tolerant and more productive.
The Swiss chard varieties are ‘Fordhook Giant’ which has dark green leaves and broad, white midribs, ‘Lucullus’ which has long, light green leaves, and ‘Bright Lights’ which has red, yellow or orange midribs and dark green leaves.
Swiss chard and spinach are among the easiest vegetables to grow. They germinate easily, don’t take up much space and are easy to harvest. But, they are gross feeders and if you want to harvest on a continual basis regular feeding is the secret for success.
- Prepare and enrich the soil before planting with generous amounts of organics as well as bonemeal for root development.
- Both vegetables can be sown in situ. Swiss chard can also be sown in seed trays as it transplants better than spinach.
- Keep the soil moist during germination – about five days.
- Seedlings should be spaced, or thinned out, to about 20cm apart.
- Feed with a liquid fertiliser about two weeks after germination and once a month after that, or more frequently if you are harvesting regularly.
- Succession planting is recommended (this means planting another crop in the same space once the first crop has been harvested).
One of the most compelling reasons for growing your own spinach is that it wilts so quickly and shop bought produce cannot match the quality of freshly picked leaves. Leaves should be ready for picking about 8 weeks after sowing. They can be cut or twisted off at the base of the plant.
When the growth is no longer vigorous and the leaves start to flop, the picking season is over and the plants should be dug out and put on the compost heap.
- Always cook spinach with the lid off. By keeping the lid on you trap the sulfur that is released with cooking and that is the reason for the bad smell.
- Don’t overcook spinach; just bring it to wilting point. It looks fresher and tastes better if it is still bright green. It is also healthier, in spite of the belief that it needs to be cooked to release iron and other nutrients.
- Boil spinach in very salty water (like sea water) to preserve its flavour.
- The bitterness comes from the white rib. Double fold the leaf and cut out the white rib completely before cooking. The white rib can be added to soups and stews or put on the compost heap.
- The nicest way to prepare spinach is to wilt it in a little olive oil over a medium heat. Add salt and pepper and a little lemon juice.
- Puree spinach and use it as a base for green sauces. It can also be used to bulk up a coriander or basil pesto.
- ‘Bright Lights’ stems add colour and crunch to salads, or use as Swiss Chard, but don’t cook too long or it will lose its vibrant red colour.
Swiss chard and brinjal salad
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped roughly
1 brinjal, halved and sliced
1 packet bacon, chopped
1 round feta cheese
Salt and pepper
Coat the brinjal slices in olive oil. Add a splash of olive oil to a pan and cook the bacon until crispy. Add the brinjals and cook until softened. Add the spinach and wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a serving dish and sprinkle with feta to serve.
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 leek, (about 120g), sliced
2 small sticks celery (about 85g), sliced
1 small potato (about 200g), peeled and diced
½ tsp ground black pepper
1l stock (made with two chicken or vegetable stock cubes)
2 x 200-235g bags spinach
150g half-fat crème fraîche
Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the spring onions, leek, celery and potato. Stir and put on the lid. Sweat for 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Pour in the stock and cook for 10 – 15 minutes until the potato is soft. Add the spinach and cook for a couple of minutes until wilted. Use a hand blender to blitz to a smooth soup. Stir in the crème fraîche. Reheat and serve.