Foodscaping with summer greens
Spinach lovers, now is the time to transition from growing our favorite cool weather common spinach to the more heat tolerant tropical spinaches that will provide leafy greens through the summer and into the fall season. Several easy-to-grow, spinach-like greens are available to stimulate our palates, nourish our bodies, and bring aesthetic beauty to our gardens. Consider growing Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, Longevity spinach and Okinawa spinach, to name a few.
Malabar spinach, also known as climbing spinach, has dark green to reddish, oval leaves with white or pink flowers on green or purple vines. These features make it attractive enough to be considered an ornamental. However, more notable features are its dietary and health benefits. Malabar spinach is high in vitamins A and C, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. It is commonly found in Asian markets and used in stir-fries, soups, stews or enjoyed raw in salads for its mild lemon-pepper flavor.
New Zealand spinach, with a milder but similar flavor to common spinach, grows from 1 to 2 feet tall. Once it spreads to about a foot wide, harvest the top 2 to 3 inches of the tender, triangular young leaves. Harvesting in this way allows the plant to continue its growth long into the summer. For this reason, it’s also known as Everlasting or Perpetual spinach. It, too, is rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium and phosphorus. In its native New Zealand, this spinach is found in salads, soups, stews, herb stuffing and lasagna.
Two local favorites, Longevity spinach and Okinawa spinach are poetically known as the “leaves of the gods.” Longevity spinach is the green leaf variety of the Okinawa spinach which has green and purple leaves. They grow from 1 to 2 feet tall and spread to make a lush ground cover. Longevity spinach has a stronger flavor and texture than Okinawa spinach, but both can be used in smoothies, salads or only lightly steamed. Overcooking can change the color and result in a gelatinous texture.
Longevity and Okinawa spinach are abundant in vitamin A and nutrients, including proteins, iron, potassium and calcium. In fact, the name “Longevity” spinach is said to have come from its many health benefits.
As if the nutritional and health benefits weren’t enough, planting these summer greens couldn’t be easier. They are prolific growers in a container or in the ground in any well-draining soil; preferably in a mix of rich, organic soil. They are sun-loving plants, but will also thrive with afternoon shade. Average watering is required during dry spells.
Harvesting often and pinching off the flowers will keep the greens producing throughout the growing season. Most can be propagated through cuttings, although Malabar spinach will go to seed as cooler weather approaches and days get shorter. Collect these seeds for use in the spring or allow the seeds to reseed naturally.
Foodscaping with these tropical greens adds color to your garden and nutrition to your table. It is a healthy, low maintenance choice for gardening in the heat of the summer.
Happy gardening & bon appétit!
Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com
Heat Tolerant Vegetables – Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (2019, June 12). Https://Gardeningsolutions.Ifas.Ufl.Edu. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/heat-tolerant-vegetables.html
Liu, G., & Qiu, Y. (2020, September). Florida Cultivation Guide for Malabar Spinach. Edis.Ifas.Ufl.Edu. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs1371
New Zealand Spinach. (2021). Https://Specialtyproduce.Com. https://specialty produce.com/produce/New_Zealand_Spinach_6784.php
Vu, A. (2018, March 20). Summer Greens. UF/IFAS Extension Orange County. https://blogs.ifas.ufl. edu/orangeco/2018/03/20/summer-greens/