Kale has been in the news a lot lately. From the spoof article on the internet last year questioning whether there was enough land in the U.S. to meet the demand for kale, to the recent announcement by McDonalds that they will be adding it to a breakfast sandwich they are introducing in a small number of markets.
In reality though, kale is nichest of niche crops. Grown on just a few hundred acres in California, a 100% increase in its production would be a rounding error compared to the acreage of another green: Spinach.
Spinach, or more accurately, baby spinach is far and away the most popular leafy green other than lettuce. It is currently grown on over 500,000 acres, January through December, in some part of California.
Spinach grows quickly. Just four weeks after the seed is planted in the ground, baby leaves can be harvested. The plants will regrow and can be cut several times, or they can grow into full sized leaves for bunching in less than three months.
There are different varieties of spinach for different seasons and locations. Winter spinach grows quickly even when the days are short and cold, while summer spinach is bred for longer, hotter days.
The popularity of spinach may be its downfall though. Spinach-specific diseases have sprung up and developed so quickly that plant breeders are having a difficult time developing resistant varieties. One of the diseases in particular, downy mildew, has been developing new strains more than once a year in response to new spinach varieties.
Astute subscribers might be wondering why I chose this week to discuss spinach, since it’s been several weeks since its been in your boxes. And it’s pretty clear from the list at the left that you aren’t getting any in your boxes this week either Both baby and mature spinach are normally staples of our CSA boxes from October through May. Continuing the above comparison, we grow about four times the acreage of spinach as we do kale. But this spring spinach has been particularly challenging for us.
It’s always somewhat of a crapshoot for us to decide which spinach varieties to plant for this time of year. The weather can range from hot and dry to wet and cold. So we usually split the difference between a “spring” variety and a “summer” one.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a good heat-tolerant spinach since the seed company discontinued the last good one we had. As is often the case, the “new and improved” variety is, well, not so much.
Meanwhile, the hot weather in April was not to the liking of the cool weather spinach we had planted — an otherwise very good variety (which we are almost completely certain will soon be replaced by another “new and improved” one any day now). It got crisped a few weeks back and we plowed it under, although had it survived it would have been very happy with the cool breezy weather we’ve having now.
So it is that I proclaim our spring spinach season over. We have a few more weeks of arugula and head lettuce in your boxes before we give up on salad greens completely until fall. Enjoy.