New Zealand Spinach: A beginner’s guide to growing and harvesting

New Zealand Spinach
New Zealand Spinach - Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

What is New Zealand spinach?

What exactly is New Zealand spinach? This leafy green vegetable is actually not a true spinach at all, but rather a member of the Tetragonia genus. It is native to coastal regions of New Zealand, as well as parts of Australia and South America. New Zealand spinach, also known as Warrigal greens, is a popular crop for those living in coastal areas, as it can withstand the salty conditions found in such environments. The plant produces thick, fleshy leaves that can be harvested and eaten throughout the summer and fall months. While it shares some similarities in taste and texture with traditional spinach, it is generally milder and less bitter. If you’re looking for a hardy and tasty green to add to your garden, New Zealand spinach is definitely worth considering.

Choosing a location for planting New Zealand spinach

When choosing a location to plant New Zealand spinach, there are several factors to consider. First and foremost, this type of plant thrives in warm and humid environments. Therefore, you should choose a spot with good sun exposure, but also one that is sheltered from strong winds.

In addition to sunlight and wind protection, soil quality is another important consideration. New Zealand spinach grows best in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. It’s also important to ensure that the soil has a neutral pH level of around 6.5-7.5. If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime to increase the pH level.

When it comes to spacing, New Zealand spinach should be planted in rows that are 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) apart, with the individual plants spaced 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) apart within the rows. This will allow for adequate air circulation and room for growth.

It’s also important to consider the season in which you will be planting New Zealand spinach. While it can be planted in both the spring and fall, it’s important to avoid planting it during the hottest part of the summer, as it may struggle in extreme heat.

In summary, when choosing a location for planting, it’s important to consider factors such as sun exposure, wind protection, soil quality, spacing, and the time of year in which you will be planting. By taking these factors into account, you can ensure that your New Zealand spinach will thrive and produce a bountiful harvest.

Soil preparation and planting techniques

Before planting New Zealand spinach, it’s important to prepare the soil properly to ensure optimal growth and health of the plant. Start by choosing a sunny spot in your garden with well-draining soil. If your soil is heavy or has poor drainage, you can improve it by adding organic matter such as compost or aged manure. Work the organic matter into the soil to a depth of about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) using a garden fork or tiller.

Next, it’s recommended to perform a soil test to determine the pH level of your soil. New Zealand spinach prefers a pH level between 6.0 and 6.5. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, you can adjust the pH level by adding lime or sulfur as needed. Follow the instructions on the product packaging for the appropriate amount to use based on the size of your garden.

Once the soil is prepared and the pH level is adjusted if needed, it’s time to plant your seeds. You can start seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area, or you can plant them directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Plant the seeds about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (0.6-1.3 cm) deep and space them about 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) apart. Water the soil well after planting to help the seeds germinate.

If you’re planting New Zealand spinach directly in the garden, you can sow the seeds in rows or scatter them throughout the planting area. Keep the soil moist during the germination period, which typically takes about 7-14 days. Once the seedlings are about 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) tall, thin them to about 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) apart to allow for adequate space for growth.

When it comes to watering, New Zealand spinach prefers consistent moisture but doesn’t like to be waterlogged. Water the plants deeply about once a week, or more often during hot, dry weather. Mulching around the plants can help to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.

In summary, proper soil preparation and planting techniques are crucial for the successful growth. Take the time to prepare the soil, adjust the pH level if needed, and plant the seeds according to the recommended depth and spacing. With a little care and attention, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of this nutritious and delicious green.

Watering and fertilizing New Zealand spinach plants

New Zealand spinach needs regular watering to thrive, especially during hot and dry weather conditions. The plants should be watered deeply once or twice a week, depending on the soil conditions and weather. It is better to water in the morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler to avoid evaporation. The soil should be moist but not waterlogged as this can lead to root rot.

Fertilizing New Zealand spinach is also important to promote healthy growth and good yields. Before planting, incorporate a balanced fertilizer into the soil, such as a 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 fertilizer, according to the package instructions. During the growing season, a side dressing of nitrogen-rich fertilizer can be applied every four to six weeks to keep the plants healthy and vigorous. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of the harvest.

It is important to monitor the soil moisture levels and nutrient levels regularly to ensure that the plants have the optimal growing conditions. A soil test can be done before planting to determine the soil pH and nutrient levels, and adjustments can be made accordingly.

Remember to water and fertilize your New Zealand spinach plants consistently and appropriately for healthy growth and good yields.

Managing pests and diseases

New Zealand spinach is generally a hardy and disease-resistant plant. However, there are a few pests and diseases that can affect its growth and yield.

One common pest that affects New Zealand spinach is the aphid. These tiny insects feed on the sap of the plant and can cause stunted growth and distorted leaves. To control aphids, you can use insecticidal soap or neem oil spray. You can also introduce natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings to your garden to help control aphids.

Another pest that can affect New Zealand spinach is the cutworm. Cutworms are larvae of certain types of moths and can cause damage to young seedlings by cutting them off at the soil line. To control cutworms, you can use protective collars around the base of the plant or sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the seedlings.

Fungal diseases like downy mildew and powdery mildew can also affect New Zealand spinach plants. These diseases can cause yellowing leaves, white powdery spots on the leaves, and stunted growth. To prevent fungal diseases, it’s important to keep the plants well-spaced and to avoid overhead watering. If you do notice signs of a fungal disease, you can treat it with a copper-based fungicide.

In addition to these pests and diseases, it’s also important to monitor for other common garden pests like slugs, snails, and caterpillars. Regular inspection and maintenance of your plants can help you catch any problems early and take appropriate action to prevent damage.

Overall, with proper care and management, New Zealand spinach can be a relatively easy crop to grow and maintain.

Companion planting with New Zealand spinach

Companion planting refers to the practice of planting different crops together to benefit each other by providing natural pest control, nutrient exchange, and soil improvement. New Zealand spinach can be grown alongside various plants, and here are some examples:

One suitable companion plant for New Zealand spinach is beans. Beans are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil, which benefits the growth. They also have a deep root system that can break up soil and improve drainage. Additionally, the tall and upright nature of bean plants provides some shade for the low-growing New Zealand spinach.

Another suitable companion is corn. Corn is a heavy feeder, which means it requires a lot of nutrients from the soil. New Zealand spinach can benefit from the leftover nutrients in the soil after the corn has used what it needs. Corn also has tall stalks that provide some shade for the New Zealand spinach.

Marigolds are also an excellent companion plant for New Zealand spinach. Marigolds have a strong aroma that can repel some pests that may harm the plants, such as nematodes. They also attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which can eat harmful pests.

Other suitable companion plants for New Zealand spinach include radishes, onions, and lettuce. Radishes and onions can deter pests like aphids and spider mites, while lettuce can provide some shade and moisture retention for the New Zealand spinach.

Companion planting can be a useful technique to improve the growth and health of New Zealand spinach. By planting suitable companions like beans, corn, marigolds, radishes, onions, and lettuce, you can create a thriving and diverse garden ecosystem that benefits all your plants.

Supporting and training New Zealand spinach vines

Supporting and training New Zealand spinach vines is essential for healthy growth and maximum yield. As these plants are climbing vines, they require support and training to prevent them from sprawling and taking up too much space in your garden. Fortunately, with a little effort and the right techniques, supporting and training the vines can be quite easy.

One of the most common methods for supporting New Zealand spinach vines is to use a trellis. A trellis can be made from a variety of materials, including bamboo, wooden stakes, or metal mesh. It should be at least 6 feet (183 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide, with horizontal bars spaced about 6 inches (15 cm) apart.

To train the vines onto the trellis, gently guide the young shoots towards it as they begin to grow. You can use twine or soft ties to secure the stems to the trellis, being careful not to damage them. As the vines continue to grow, continue to tie them to the trellis at regular intervals to encourage vertical growth.

Another method for supporting New Zealand spinach vines is to use a support netting. This is a lightweight mesh that is stretched between two or more posts to form a trellis. The netting is easy to install and can be adjusted as your plants grow. Simply weave the young shoots through the netting as they grow, securing them with ties or clips.

When supporting and training your New Zealand spinach vines, it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs of stress or damage. Be sure to prune any damaged or diseased parts of the plant, and provide adequate water and nutrients to promote healthy growth.

Supporting and training New Zealand spinach vines is crucial for healthy growth and maximum yield. By using a trellis or support netting and gently guiding the young shoots, you can keep your plants from sprawling and ensure they grow vertically. Remember to monitor your plants for signs of stress or damage and provide the necessary care to keep them healthy.

Harvesting: when and how to pick the leaves

New Zealand spinach is a delicious and nutritious leafy green that can be harvested throughout the growing season. Knowing when and how to pick the leaves will ensure that you get the best flavor and texture from your harvest.

The leaves can be harvested as soon as they reach a usable size, which is typically when they are 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) long. It’s important to harvest the leaves before they become too mature and tough, as this can affect the flavor and texture of the plant.

To harvest New Zealand spinach, simply use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to cut the leaves off at the base of the stem. Try to avoid damaging the remaining plant as much as possible, as this can impact future growth and yields.

It’s important to note that New Zealand spinach is a fast-growing plant, so it’s important to harvest the leaves regularly to encourage new growth. You can expect to harvest leaves every 3-4 weeks throughout the growing season, and you can continue to harvest until the plant begins to bolt (produce flowers).

When harvesting, it’s important to handle the leaves gently to avoid bruising and damaging them. Once you have harvested the leaves, it’s best to use them as soon as possible for the best flavor and texture. You can store them in the refrigerator for a few days, but they will begin to lose their freshness and flavor over time.

In summary, harvesting New Zealand spinach is a simple process that can be done throughout the growing season. Harvest the leaves when they reach a usable size, use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to cut them off at the base of the stem, and handle them gently to avoid damaging the leaves. With regular harvesting, you can enjoy fresh, nutritious New Zealand spinach all season long.

Storing and preserving New Zealand spinach after harvest

Once you’ve harvested your New Zealand spinach, it’s important to store and preserve it properly to extend its shelf life and maintain its quality. Here are some tips on how to store and preserve your New Zealand spinach after harvest:

  1. Wash and dry the leaves: Before storing, make sure to wash the leaves thoroughly and pat them dry with a clean towel or paper towel. This will help remove any dirt or debris and prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to spoilage.
  2. Wrap in paper towels: After drying the leaves, wrap them loosely in paper towels. This will help absorb any excess moisture and prevent the leaves from wilting. Be sure to change the paper towels every few days to keep them fresh.
  3. Store in the fridge: Place the wrapped leaves in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. The ideal temperature for New Zealand spinach storage is between 34-38°F (1-3°C). This will help slow down the deterioration process and keep the leaves fresh for up to a week.
  4. Freeze for long-term storage: If you have more New Zealand spinach than you can use within a week, consider freezing it for long-term storage. To do so, blanch the leaves in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then immediately transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, pat the leaves dry and pack them into airtight containers or freezer bags. Be sure to label and date the containers, and store them in the freezer for up to 8 months.
  5. Avoid storing with ethylene-producing fruits: New Zealand spinach is sensitive to ethylene gas, which is produced by fruits such as apples, bananas, and avocados. To prevent premature spoilage, keep it away from ethylene-producing fruits.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your New Zealand spinach stays fresh and delicious for as long as possible.

New Zealand spinach recipe ideas for the home cook

New Zealand spinach is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some recipe ideas for the home cook:

New Zealand Spinach and Feta Cheese Quiche

Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a pie dish with a pie crust and bake for 10 minutes. In a mixing bowl, beat 4 eggs and add 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese, 1 cup of chopped New Zealand spinach, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

New Zealand Spinach and Potato Curry

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add 1 chopped onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons of curry powder, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of ground coriander and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric. Cook until the onions are soft. Add 2 diced potatoes, 1 cup of vegetable broth and 2 cups of chopped New Zealand spinach. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Serve with rice.

New Zealand Spinach and Parmesan Pasta

Cook 8 ounces (225 grams) of pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant. Add 4 cups of chopped New Zealand spinach and cook until wilted. Add the cooked pasta, reserved pasta water, 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Toss until well combined.

New Zealand Spinach and Bacon Salad

Cook 4 slices of bacon until crispy. Drain on paper towels and crumble. In a large bowl, combine 4 cups of chopped New Zealand spinach, 1/4 cup of sliced red onion, 1/4 cup of dried cranberries and the crumbled bacon. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.

New Zealand Spinach and Potato Soup

Boil potatoes until tender, then mash them with a fork. In a pot, sauté onion and garlic in butter, then add chicken or vegetable broth and the mashed potatoes. Stir in chopped New Zealand spinach and simmer until the spinach is wilted and the soup is heated through.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. New Zealand spinach can also be used in soups, stews, omelets and more. Experiment and have fun with this nutritious and delicious vegetable!

Common mistakes to avoid when growing New Zealand spinach in your garden

Common mistakes to avoid when growing New Zealand spinach in the garden:

  1. Overwatering: New Zealand spinach prefers well-drained soil and can suffer from root rot if the soil is too wet. Make sure to water only when necessary and avoid standing water.
  2. Underfertilizing: Although New Zealand spinach does not require heavy fertilization, it still needs some nutrients to grow properly. Make sure to fertilize the soil with a balanced fertilizer every few weeks to ensure healthy growth.
  3. Planting in the wrong season: New Zealand spinach is a warm-weather crop and does not do well in cold temperatures. Planting too early in the spring or too late in the fall can result in poor growth or even death of the plant.
  4. Not thinning the seedlings: It is important to thin the seedlings once they have grown a few inches tall. Overcrowded seedlings can result in stunted growth and poor quality leaves.
  5. Neglecting to harvest regularly: New Zealand spinach leaves grow quickly and need to be harvested regularly to prevent the plant from becoming overgrown and tough. Make sure to harvest the leaves when they are young and tender for the best flavor.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure a healthy and productive crop of New Zealand spinach in your garden.

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