Garden Fresh: Growing Spinach

After many attempts, I finally sautéed a gorgeous pan of panko-crusted Chicken Parmesan, laid the cutlets on beds of linguini, and sauced them pretty enough for a photo shoot. Meanwhile, my lovely wife blanched some fresh spinach for five minutes, squeezed out the water, seasoned it, then casually plopped it on a corner of my handiwork, tossing on some parmigiano. She saw the protest forming, and stifled it with, "That's how they do it in New York."

It was indeed delicious, and not a lot of work. Spinach is 90 percent water, so it's hard to cook it badly, and with a crop of it outside, we can add a few leaves to a sandwich, salad, soup, or omelet.

Texas competes with California as the premier spinach states, so we already know it thrives here. The only difficulty is the green's preference for an alkaline soil, so it's helpful to add a little agricultural lime to the section of garden or pot to raise the pH. Lime isn't expensive, but if it's troublesome to find, crushed eggshells added to the soil will also make it more alkaline.

Mid-October is the best time to plant spinach, as they prefer cool weather, and I soak the seeds overnight in cold water to get the germination process going. The seeds and plants prefer a constantly moist, but not soggy soil, and if the sprouts are in a pot, I keep them in partial shade until they get going for at least a week.

After the plants are thriving for a month, they can use some fertilizer, and I do it lightly every week afterward. Each time I fertilize, I plant a few more seeds to keep a constant crop until next spring, when spinach has a tendency to bolt to seed rather quickly once the soil gets above 70˚ consistently. I'd like to say spinach doesn't like anything above room temperature, but as Steven Wright observed, "It doesn't matter what temperature the room is, it's always room temperature."

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