Summer is closing in. The days are growing hotter, the soil’s drying out, and crunchy, nutty, versatile spinach will soon be past its best-by date. Spinach is a favourite with many and no wonder. Whether you’re tossing it blanched into an omelette or frittata, or creaming, steaming or stir-frying it, it’s a dream to use in the kitchen. The only problem is, most spinach doesn’t care for excessive heat or cold, long daylight hours, overcrowding or dry ground. In fact, this very fussy vegetable runs to seed at the first sign of stress. But spinach lovers need not fret. Equally delicious alternatives are in the wings and they will happily step up to the mark in both the hottest and coldest months of the gardening year.
Perpetual spinach beet
It’s not perpetual and it’s not spinach but this silver beet cousin is the perfect alternative for spinach during summer. With a bright green, matt-finish leaf, it has all the flavour of spinach but with slightly less crunch. It’s delicious chopped into a salad when young, or harvested when mature and used in the same way you would cooked spinach. Sow it from seed and hold back on thinning as the dense growth can be chopped off at the base and left to come again. Alternatively, sow in punnets and transplant out into individual pockets of soil where it can mature to its full size. This is special summer green, which is seldom found in supermarkets due to its need to be used straight from the garden, is easy and undemanding to grow.
American Land Cress
While many of us are familiar with water cress as a foraged alternative to spinach, there is nowadays the nagging worry this tasty wild vegetable may be infected with giardia or animal effluent. Better by far, and with an attractive peppery tang, American land cress is an alternative to water cress and one we can all grow at home. Forming a pretty rosette, it will fare well given regular but not excessive amounts of water, and dappled light. Best of all, it is slow bolting so summer won’t see it romping away on you.
Masquerading as spinach and with very much the same flavour, this is one of the few Asian greens that won’t run to seed in the blink of an eye. Happy to keep producing throughout summer if grown in a cool spot, and doing even better when grown from seed sown in late summer, it is made for stir-fries and salads. Harvest it as a baby green in warm weather or pick it leaf by leaf from larger plants in autumn; either way, you’d swear you’re dining on spinach!
Known in year’s past as ‘Dutch Queen’, this prickly-seed winter spinach now goes by many names, including the indomitable Spinach Andromeda F1. A winner if ever there was one, this 100% reliable winter green keeps on producing through the coldest months with a performance that improves the more the icy weather grows. Hardy, tender and a real cut-and-come-again vegetable, sow it in autumn and uses it in fresh winter salads or as a green-to-steam.
Spinach lovers in-the-know can take heart that their favourite leafy green, or a very close cousin, is always close at hand.