Perpetual Spinach

October 20, 2019 lawanda Newspaper Columns

        Spinach is easy to grow but even varieties touted as slow to bolt succumb to hot weather way too soon each summer.  There is an alternative in a plant from the beet family that is actually a chard, called perpetual spinach.  It tastes like neither beets nor chard, but like spinach.  In mid-October, my perpetual spinach is still growing, as fresh and green as it was in June.

        Perpetual spinach seeds can be planted directly into the soil outdoors, ½ inch deep and 6 inches apart, or started indoors and transplanted out later.  It would work well in a small-space garden or container as well.

        Perpetual spinach does best in full sun, but afternoon shade won’t hurt production.  It prefers soil rich in organic matter and responds well to compost and fertilizer.  It is a forgiving plant though, and will do fine in poorer soil.  Make sure it gets plenty of water mid-summer so the leaves do not turn bitter. 

        Perpetual spinach grows in the manner of chard.  Leaves develop in a circular manner around the crown.  Keep outside leaves cut to promote fresh new growth from the inside of the plant.  Just the two plants I grew produced more than enough greens for the entire season.  In fact, they produced so abundantly that I sometimes cut the outside leaves and composted them just to keep the plant producing. 

        Harvest can begin when leaves are three inches tall.  Harvest continuously – if leaves get to be 10 inches tall, they develop an earthy taste.  If you require a large amount of greens at one time, you can cut the entire plant down to three inches and let it regrow. 

        Greens should be stored in a plastic bag, unwashed, in the refrigerator.  They can be used in any way that spinach is used – fresh in salads, steamed, sautéed, or braised, and in soups, stews and casseroles.  Stems are larger and sturdier than spinach stems, but can also be eaten. 

        Perpetual spinach is rarely bothered by insect pests.  However, you may see slug damage or find leaves with aphids or flea beetles.  Just remove the affected leaves and let the plant continue to grow.

        Like Swiss chard, perpetual spinach tolerates cool temperatures down to the upper 20s.  Most people agree that the leaves taste even better after a light frost.  It’s possible that a plant could even tolerate a hard frost because the outside leaves may protect the inside ones.  Just remove the frost-killed leaves and see if the plant continues growing.

        The name “perpetual” is slightly misleading.  “Perpetual” does not mean “perennial.”  Perpetual spinach is a biennial plant – in its second year it will set seed and then die. 

        Even if you don’t like spinach, this plant can find a place in your landscape.  Its leaves are a pretty, bright green, about a foot tall, and would make a nice vertical accent to a sunny flower bed or border.

Fruits and vegetables

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