I grew up watching Popeye eating spinach as it was a favourite cartoon of my brother and my dad. I wasn’t into muscles and silly humour, but I watched it with them anyway. I loved hanging out with my brother when I was little. Well, I still do now, just it’s more difficult when we live in two different countries.
For my whole my childhood I thought spinach was a made-up vegetable as it was translated as “duck feet vegetable” (rau chân vịt) in Vietnamese. Come on, no real sensible vegetable could be called that.
Then I grew up, learned to speak English, watched the original show and found out that spinach is the real thing.
When I came to live in England, I tried the veg. Guess what, its taste is similar to one of my most-loved greens in Vietnam. I don’t think they are the same, but perhaps they are related. Popeye was much closer to home than I thought.
Last year, when I decided to expand my garden capacity, going beyond herbs, fruits and moving into vegetables, spinach seemed like an obvious choice.
I started the first crop in late summer. The harvest wasn’t amazing, but I had some leaves to use in a Vietnamese dish as a replacement of the green I mentioned early: “mùng tơi”. The dish was delicious, and I fell like Popeye for the first time.
Spinach seeds can be sown as early as February. In fact, I just started my first container for this year last weekend. If you leave the pots outside, you might need to cover them up during some freezingly cold February days. (It is -4 Celcius degrees where I am right now).
You can keep sowing spinach seeds for the summer harvest until the end of May.
For a winter crop, scatter the seeds in August and September.
Seeds should be about 2.5 cm deep, and the seedlings can be thin out to 7.5 cm apart. Choose the size of your container accordingly!
Care for & harvest spinach
I find spinach rather easy going. You just need to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Water it well during the dry period in the summer. During the winter’s coldest months, protect the plants with straw mulch and cover any container with fleece.
You can harvest the leaves of each plant layer by layer. Do it alternatively among your plants, and you can have spinach almost all year round.
Spinach is very healthy. It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. A long list, right?
The vegetable is versatile, too. You can eat the leaves raw in salads, or use a large quantity in vegetarian stews, Indian curries, quiches, crepes, lasagna and green smoothies. Basically, a lot of food. I use my home-grown spinach to make “canh” – a broth with dried prawn, which I eat alongside sticky rice. And it’s the best.