By Stephanie Shaw, EMU Dietetics Student
I arrived at the Farm on a warm, fall day during the end of September, just in time to help harvest the last of the tomatoes and begin the fall planting. There is so much to do and learn this time of year; I have been asking questions as the fall crops are planted and begin to grow. This week, I’ll share what I have learned about the spinach crop.
Spinach, or spinacia oleracea, grows best as a cool season crop, so it is an excellent leafy green to grow in the hoop house right now. The cooler weather keeps the spinach from “bolting.” Bolting refers to the process when the plant produces a flower stalk, which naturally happens as the weather gets warmer. While the flower may look pretty, the spinach leaves begin to taste bitter because the plant is putting more energy/sugar towards blooming and less energy into the leaves.1
This year, fresh spinach seeds from Wood Prairie Farm called “Winter Bloomsdale” were planted. This type of seed falls within the “savoy” category, so it will develop crinkly and curly leaves. I also discovered that there are two additional main varieties of spinach: smooth leaf which is flat in appearance and semi-savoy which is a combination of smooth and savoy with slightly curly leaves.2
The spinach seeds were planted directly into the ground on October 1st and began peering through the ground within a week. As the seedlings developed, I noticed that two very skinny, long, bright green leaves were the first to appear. Dan taught me that these leaves are the cotyledon – they are the leaves that emerge from within the embryo of the seed itself upon germination. As the weeks go on, the plant matures and begins developing the true leaves in rosette form.1 I’ve included some pictures, so you can see this development for yourself.
Dan anticipates that the spinach will be at the Farmers’ Market by Thanksgiving. Until then, come see what type of leafy produce Green Things has harvested for Wednesday’s Market. The spinach growing at The Farm at St. Joe’s will be hand harvested as baby spinach, while the foliage is still small. Its leaves will be carefully cut-off above the growth point with a small-bladed knife. The growth point is on the spinach’s single stem, approximately 1 inch above the ground. Generally, leaves will be harvested from the same plant a total of two times. I’m looking forward to harvesting spinach for the first time and am already thinking about what I will make with it.
One of the things I love adding spinach to is my chicken meatballs. Not only does the spinach taste great, but it also adds fiber and many valuable nutrients such as vitamin K, beta-carotene, folate, iron, vitamin C and calcium to the meal. Check out the recipe below. Note: I use gluten-free bread crumbs. However, you could substitute any type of bread, if a gluten-free diet is not necessary in your home.
Chicken Meatballs with Spinach (Gluten-Free)
1 pound ground chicken
3/4 cup wholegrain gluten-free bread
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup milk
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 ½ cups finely chopped spinach
1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place bread in food processor and pulse to create fine bread crumbs (breads that are dryer or a day old tend to crumb better). Combine ground chicken, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, egg, milk, garlic, onion, spinach, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix together all ingredients by hand. Spoon-out enough mixture to roll into balls that are approximately 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place meatballs onto greased or lined baking sheet. Bake for approximately 25
– 35 minutes, until fully cooked throughout and lightly browned on the outside. Serve as desired – on top of your favorite pasta dish or aside a spinach salad topped with your favorite veggies and dressing.
1. John M Swiader and George W. Ware, “Producing Vegetable Crops,” 5th Edition.
2. Center for Nutrition, Diet and Health PDF. Website: