Spinach for Happiness

Gardening is done many reasons. Some garden for the beauty of it, the need for food, to reduce chemicals ingested, to draw in wildlife, and the list goes on. Whatever the reason is, gardening should always lead to happiness.

Happiness from our garden not only comes from the Zen of physically gardening, but also from the healthful produce we harvest. Eating foods high in vitamin and mineral content, as well as fiber, can nourish our bodies, minds, and even our gut bacteria. If we eat well and take care of our bodies, and the bacteria that reside within us, we can stave off many illnesses, chronic diseases, cancer, depression, and anxiety. Doing this is a surefire recipe for happiness. One group of foods that can help us eat well is the leafy greens, with spinach as a true stand out in the health category.

Happily Nutritious

Spinach can provide us with 7 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 1 carbohydrate (in the form of dietary fiber) in a one cup (30 gram) serving. In that serving we also get an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, E (alpha tocopherol), K-1, B-1 (thiamin), B-2 (riboflavin), B-6, and B-9 (folate) and nonheme iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Spinach is also a good source of Vitamin B-3 (niacin) and zinc. Talk about wealth of nutrition! Although due to spinach’s oxalate content, some of the minerals spinach provides can have a decrease in their ability to be absorbed. Plus oxalates can contribute to gout and kidney stones. However, the oxalate level can vary based of variety.

Varied Happiness

The varieties of spinach come in two main forms: smooth or savoy (crinkly) leaved varieties. The smooth variety is what we often see in our produce aisles or in the canned or freezer sections of our local market. This is due to the fact that the smooth leaf variety grows faster, produces more, and is more easily cleaned. All these qualities make this variety desirable to large scale producers. However, the savoy leaf will keep longer, contains less oxalate, and is often preferred in both taste and texture. There are now also hybrids of the two, called semi-savoy that have the taste and texture of the savoy, but are easier to clean.

Historical Happiness

No matter what the variety, all spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a member of the Amaranthaceae flowering plant family in the order of Caryophyllales and is related to the beet and Swiss chard. This cool weather annual plant is thought to have originated from central and southwest Asia and first cultivated over 2,000 years ago in Persia (Iran). From that time spinach was known to be consumed in China in the 6th century, Spain in the 11th century, and then in other parts throughout Europe in the 14th century and later in the Americas in the 16th century.

Homegrown Happiness

Spinach is now grown in various locations as both a spring and an autumn crop. When planting, temperatures should be above 50°F, but below 60°F for optimal production. This is usually about 4 weeks prior to the last frost of the spring and 6 weeks before the first frost of autumn. Spinach prefers well drained soil at a pH of 6.5-7, that has been supplemented with nitrogen rich organic matter to encourage the growth of tender leaves. Seeds can be sown directly into the soil, about 1” apart and 1” deep in an area of full sun, although spinach is tolerant of partial shade.

Spinach plants need to be water frequently as growth begins and then on a regular basis as the plants develop. As sprouting begins the spinach can be thinned so plants are spaced 3” apart. Do keep an eye out for insect pests and mildews and rusts. If you encounter pests, work to invite predatory insects into your garden to eat the pests. If you encounter mildews or rusts, spray your plants with a mixture of 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to 1 gallon of water to rid them of mildew and rusts.

Spinach for Happiness 01

Harvesting Happiness

Once the plants reach desired leaf size you can pick individual leaves or harvest the entire plant. Picking individual outer leaves will allow your plants to continue producing. Just don’t wait too long to harvest, as the leaves will become bitter. Once picked, wait to wash your spinach until ready to use. Place the fresh picked, unwashed spinach, in a sealable container with paper towels on the bottom and top (just under the lid) of the container. This will help control moisture and keep your spinach fresher, longer, up to a week. When you are ready to use, wash your spinach thoroughly. You can also freeze spinach to keep longer, but wash and dry completely before freezing.

Once you have brought in your crop of spinach, it’s time to enjoy it. Spinach makes a great base for green salads, especially when tossed fresh strawberries and almonds. Spinach can also be sautéed with olive oil, salt, and pepper or added to your next green smoothie. I enjoy making a tasty crustless quiche when I have fresh (or frozen) spinach to use. Here is a recipe you can try in your own kitchen.

Spinach Quiche – Sans Crust

Ingredients:
2 T olive or avocado oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, roughly torn (For frozen spinach: thaw and drain before using)
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded sharp mozzarella cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F
Lightly grease a 9”pie plate
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat
Sauté shallots until soft
Add in spinach
Cook until spinach has wilted and excess moisture has evaporated
In a separate bowl combine eggs, cheeses, salt and pepper
Add spinach mixture to egg mixture
Mix well
Add combined mixture into pie plate
Bake 35-40 minutes or until eggs have set
Let cool for 15 minutes
Serving and enjoy!

To add some additional protein to this dish, cook up some sausage, hamburger, or bacon and add to the quiche when combining the eggs and cheeses. Smoked cheeses or herbs, such as oregano, can be added to enhance and shake up the flavor. This quiche does well topped with a little salsa, sauerkraut, or kimchi, and is a wonderfully easy and delicious brunch recipe to make for any occasion!

Be Happy!

If you are looking for a remarkable and versatile spring or autumn crop, be sure to add this emerald beauty to your cultivating crop collection. This stunning leafy green is a cheerful addition to your gardening space that will add flavor, color, and nutrition to your culinary dishes. So grow a little (or a lot) of spinach and be happy!

References:

Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker

Mahr, S. May 21, 2012. University of Wisconsin-Extension. Master Gardener Program. Spinach, Spinacia oleracea. http://wimastergardener.org/article/spinach-spinacia-oleracea/

University of Illinois Extension. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hort Answers. Vegetable. Spinach Spinacia oleracea, New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia Tetragonoides). http://extension.illinois.edu/hortanswers/plantdetail.cfm?PlantID=779&PlantTypeID=9

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