UVALDE – Texas AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists in the South Central Texas area believe they have a good spinach alternative for home gardeners to use instead of Coho, which commercial seed suppliers will no longer make available.
“For many years, Coho has been the preferred spinach variety for both large- and small-scale producers, but seed suppliers will discontinue making that seed available,” said David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture, Bexar County. “But there is already a commercially tested alternative called Ashley, which we expect will serve well as a replacement for Coho in home gardens this fall.”
Rodriguez said for years Coho has been the popular choice for area home gardeners because it was easy to grow and resistant to white rust, the major spinach disease.
“October and November are typically the best months for planting spinach in the South Central Texas area, and home gardeners have been wanting to know what variety to plant since they have found out Coho seed isn’t being offered anymore,” he said.
Rodriguez said spinach is the “super-food champion” of the vegetable garden, with nearly twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and B2, niacin and Vitamin C as any other of the leafy greens.
“And Coho was the reigning champion of home garden spinach varieties, but now the champion is ‘retired’ and we’ve been looking for a new top contender for that title,” he said.
Ashley is similar to Coho and has already been successfully tested in the Texas Winter Garden area with good results, he said.
Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde, said Ashley is a semi-savoy, Pop Vriend variety that has been evaluated as PV-7130 in Winter Garden test plots.
Stein said testing has been done over the past few years in cooperation with the Winter Garden spinach industry and area producers to determine Ashley’s potential as a commercial crop for the region.
“In our field tests, we have seen that Ashley is disease- and drought-tolerant, and has shown little freeze damage as a result of the cooler fall and winter temperatures in the region,” Stein said. “Because of the fungus diseases that damage spinach growth and leaf appearance, only certain varieties are recommended, and Ashley shows good resistance to them.”
He noted that spinach plants are typically drought-resistant, do well in alkaline soil and grow best in mean temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees, so spinach is an ideal “cool-season” crop for South Central Texas.
“Many types of spinach are more productive in this area of Texas than anywhere else in the world,” Stein said. “In fact, commercial growers in this area typically produce about 30 percent of all the spinach consumed in the United States.”
Spinach can be killed by temperatures around 12 degrees, so the mild winters normally experienced in South Central Texas help ensure a good, continuous harvest, he added.
“What the home gardener often forgets is that spinach is a cool-season crop with seed that germinates very poorly, if at all, in warmer soil,” Rodriguez said. “To avoid a poor stand, the first planting should be when soil temperature is 85 degrees or lower.”
However, many people who plant fall gardens in August and September are actually harvesting fall produce before spinach planting should even be considered, he said.
“As a result, they miss the optimum spinach planting time,” he said. “Many home gardeners have had bad luck growing spinach because they ignored this basic growing requirement. Then they have become discouraged due to a lack of success from those too-early planting attempts.”
He said planting seed during adverse growing conditions accounts for the main problem in crop success, but hungry pill bugs, snails and soil fungus have also killed many spinach seedlings.
“One answer is to obtain a larger, tougher seedling in the form of a transplant,” he said. “Tough-stemmed transplants are also more resistant to damping off fungus that causes stem rotting.”
Rodriguez said Ashley will initially be available from South Central Texas retail nurseries and garden suppliers as transplants in singles or six-packs, which should help ensure their success if planted and tended properly.
“As a semi-savoy variety, Ashley is a combination of flat-leaf and crinkled-leaf spinach, which also gives it a nice texture and look when growing in a home vegetable garden, sunny flower bed or separate container,” he said. “Spinach will tolerate and produce in a partly shady planting location, and can produce a fair crop in less than full sunlight.”
Rodriguez recommended preparing the vegetable garden for spinach transplants by incorporating 2 or 3 inches of compost into the soil and then spreading one cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer over every 50 square feet of garden bed.
“Spinach transplants should be planted in rows on top of raised planting beds,” he said. “Planting in rows is preferable since weeds that emerge near the spinach plants can be more easily removed. Transplants should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart and should be watered every two days until they become established, which should be in about 10 days.”
He also suggested fertilizing the plants every four weeks with 1 cup of fertilizer side-dressed along every 10 feet of row.
“Approximately six to eight weeks after planting, depending upon the weather, it should be harvest time,” he said. “As the weather cools, your spinach will take a little longer to fully mature and will grow more upright. If you harvest it one leaf at a time, as needed, and never remove more than one-third of the leaves at any one picking, the plant should produce all the way up until the end of April or when the weather gets warm.”
Rodriguez said insects typically are not a major problem for spinach grown in the garden, and that slug and snail bait works well to keep any non-beneficial insects under control.
“If you or your children ever thought spinach wasn’t tasty, try it fresh from your own South Central Texas garden with a favorite dressing,” Rodriguez said. “Now is the time to be looking into planting garden spinach, and we think Ashley will serve as a good, easy-to-grow, attractive alternative to Coho for the home gardener.”
For more information, go to http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/.