One way to get yourself and the kids to eat more spinach is to grow it yourself. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) prefers cool weather, so plant it in early spring, late summer or early fall. Some types of spinach are susceptible to diseases that can kill the plant while it is young. Most varieties of spinach will go to seed when things heat up, meaning the leaves become bitter.
1. Leaf Shape
Some varieties of spinach have crinkled or savoy leaves while others have plain, flat leaves. A third type is known as semi-savoy. The leaves of a semi-savoy spinach are slightly crinkled. The type of spinach you grow depends on your own taste. Some people enjoy the texture of crinkled leaf varieties, such as "Bloomsdale" or "Winter Bloomsdale." Crinkly leaved spinach does tend to be grittier, since dirt gets stuck in the savoy leaves. If you want less sandy spinach, pick a plain leaf variety, such as "Giant Nobel" or "Olympia." For the best of both worlds, pick a semi-savoy type, such as "Melody" or "Tyee."
All spinach types will bolt, or produce seeds, at some point or another. Seeds are how the plant reproduces. If you live in an area that gets hot quickly, you might want a slow-bolting variety so that you have more time to harvest the leaves. Once the plant bolts, it puts its attention into making seeds, so the leaves deteriorate. "Olympia" and "Winter Bloomsdale" are two varieties that are slow to bolt. "Chesapeake" spinach is eager to bolt, so should be avoided if you live in a warm area.
3. Disease Resistance
Certain diseases can ruin a crop of spinach. Cucumber mosaic virus can infect some varieties, leading to blight. Spinach plants with blight turn yellow, have stunted growth and ultimately die. The plants can also suffer from fungal diseases such as downy mildew. "Melody" and "Tyee" resist downy mildew, while "Vienna" is resistant to certain types of downy mildew and blight. "Winter Bloomsdale" can tolerate mosaic virus. If you don't grow resistant or tolerant varieties, give each plant ample room to reduce the risk of fungal infection and plant the spinach in raised beds or a container instead of in the ground.
4. Fake Spinach
Some types of spinach aren't really spinach at all. They are grown because they tolerate heat better than real spinach and have a similar taste. New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) thrives in hot temperatures. The plant grows up to 2 feet high and has branched leaves, so it doesn't look like regular spinach in the garden. Malabar spinach (Basella alba) is another fake spinach. Malabar loves the heat and will grow rapidly when the temperature is around 90 degrees. It's a tropical vine with leaves that are either green or red. You can use the leaves of Malabar or New Zealand spinach as you would regular spinach leaves.
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