If you’re looking for something that’s incredibly easy to grow and gives quick gratification for your efforts than look no further than spinach! Like radish and lettuce, spinach should be at the top of anyone’s list for quick reliable growers that give bumper crops with very little effort.
Right now on the student vegetable plots we’re harvesting tons of the stuff. On my plot it was the first thing to be harvested. I picked the first few leaves when they are softest and least bitter in the first week of May and I’m still harvesting now. Even with the unpredictable and ridiculously changeable weather we’ve had here at Kew, it’s pulled though and given me a reliable crop each week.
Why should you grow spinach?
It's really easy to grow, it doesn’t take up much space and, if you don’t have space, it's perfect for pots and containers too. From sowing to harvesting you only have to wait 4 weeks. Much like lettuce, spinach is a ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop, and I would recommend using it like this! Pick the leaves as soon as they are big enough, pick little and often, and you’ll always have a supply of leaves. You can keep picking like this for from 10 to 12 weeks. Spinach is a hard worker, and definitely pays for its place on any plot.
A robin keeping a close eye on the spinach at the student vegetable plots (Photo: A.Marubbi)
We have been growing a spinach variety called 'Amazon', not the most exciting variety but a good reliable cropper. In the past I've found 'Palco' to be a good variety. It's slow to bolt and mildew-resistant which makes it ideal for early sowings and repeat sowings through the summer. It's also been given an award of garden merit from the RHS, so has a good track record.
Spinach ‘Amazon’ growing happily on the plot in May (Photo: A.Marubbi)
How do you grow spinach?
Sow the seeds directly into the soil, spinach isn’t fussy. You can start sowing outside from February, and carry on repeated sowings throughout the summer. As soon as the first seedlings start showing their heads, do another sowing, this way you can get successive crops and an uninterrupted supply of leaves through the season. They don’t need too much space between each plant, 10cm will do.
What can you do with spinach?
To be fair, it’s not the most glamorous of veggies... but it’s very versatile. The young leaves are perfect for salads, they’re soft and sweet, but still have a bitter kick like rocket. The older leaves are much more bitter but great melted in pasta dishes or cooked on their own with a little butter – this is definitely my favourite way of eating it! And there is only one possible way to deal with a glut of spinach – spinach cake!
Recipe for spinach cake
I’m harvesting big bags full every week now, so I’ve had to get inventive with it. Last year at home my mum and I experimented by making a savoury spinach cake. Since then I haven’t looked back and every chance I have to make it - I DO! If you only grow spinach to make this cake then all your efforts have been well worth it. This recipe gives you a moist, savoury, cheesy, almost quiche-like filling; it's light and just as good eaten hot or cold!!
600g spinach leaves
5 spring onions
1 large courgette
100ml white wine
250ml crème fraiche
50g grated parmesan
Freshly grated nutmeg
Black pepper & salt
- Dice the courgette and spring onions. Sauté in the warm butter until soft and slightly coloured.
- Raise the heat a little and add white wine (or water). Allow to reduce, letting the courgettes bubble in the liquid.
- Wash the spinach, remove the thick stalks leaving only the leaves, and wilt in a large hot pan with only the water that clings to their leaves when they were washed. This takes seconds to cook.
- Drain and squeeze the spinach of all the remaining water. Roughly chop and add to the spring onions and courgettes. With a hand blender ‘blitz’ the mix into a green paste.
No other cake batter like this one (Photo: A.Marubbi)
- Add the cream, eggs, salt, pepper, parmesan and nutmeg and blitz again to give a lovely thick green batter.
- Pour this into a buttered 10 inch cake tin and bake for 30 minutes at 170C, until the cake is set but still with a little wobble in the middle.
- Stand for 30 mins and serve... Delicious!
Spinach cake straight out of the oven (Photo: A.Marubbi)
So - make a space on your plot for wonderful, versatile, easy-to-grow and yummy spinach!
- Aaron -
Student Vegetable Plots and weekend 'grow your own' surgeries
Admire our extensive vegetable plots, managed by students from Kew's School of Horticulture, and be inspired to get planting yourself! At the weekend, students and apprentices will be around to offer visitors advice about seed sowing, transplanting and proven techniques, so you can get the most out of your garden. They'll also be available to answer your questions.
- When are the student vegetable plots open? - all day, during Garden opening hours
- When are the 'grow your own' surgeries' open? - Every Saturday and Sunday, 11am - 4pm
- Price - free, with admission to the Gardens
- Where are the student vegetable plots? - The student vegetable plots are behind the Davies Alpine House at the bottom right of the map - Plan your visit with the IncrEdibles Voyage map (pdf)
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