Monday, 31 March 2014

Veg Patch Confessions Part 43b - New Zealand Spinach

There's no recipe today; instead it’s this year’s first dubious tale from the neglected veg patch.

Spinach is a very useful vegetable to have growing in your garden in my opinion. Even if you don’t have much space to grow a lot of plants, a couple of handfuls of the leaves can be really useful to add to curries, pasta, fish or whatever you fancy. The problem is that if you’re away from home or if you’re just too busy to get out to your plants, then things start to go wrong. Like most vegetables, spinach doesn't take kindly to near complete neglect, especially a lack of watering.

On the other hand, there is a useful little plant that has survived a serious amount of neglect in my veg patch: New Zealand Spinach (tetragonia tetragonioides). It might not be as prolific or as large as conventional spinach, but any vegetable that can survive both drought and my incompetent gardening has got to be a good thing.
New Zealand Spinach
You may know this plant by a different name. For instance, in Australia and New Zealand I'm told that it’s known as Warrigal greens. In France it’s called t├ętragone and elsewhere it’s sometimes called sea spinach for reasons that I don’t really understand. Whatever you call it, though, it really does taste and behave like spinach once cooked.

If you're not familiar with this plant and you might be tempted to try growing it, here are a few things I've discovered about New Zealand spinach that the seed packet might not tell you.
  • Snails and slugs don’t seem to like it much and will only nibble it if desperate.

  • As far as I know, there are no named varieties and so there’s no reason to go shopping around for a particular variety of seed – they should all be the same.

  • It’s best if you pick the leaves little and often. Once blanched they do freeze well in the same way as normal spinach. If you don’t pick regularly, the plants can become quite large and ungainly. This might not be a major problem unless they outgrow their space and swamp nearby smaller plants.

  • Don’t plant it directly in the ground if the soil is still cold – it will sulk and fail to germinate. On the other hand, it germinates really well in pots on a windowsill, although it’s best to soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.

  • In their raw form the leaves do contain quite a high concentration of oxalic acid (as does sorrel) and this would be unhealthy in large doses. Although eating raw leaves is not recommended, the acid is largely removed by cooking or blanching. Spinach, chard, kale and rhubarb (amongst other foods) also contain oxalic acid, so I don’t think that there’s any reason to worry about this plant in particular.

  • The flowers are small and yellow and it’s almost impossible to stop the plants flowering, especially if you don’t pick the leaves regularly. It doesn’t really matter if they do flower, though, and they will self-seed, so you may never need to buy another packet of seeds.

  • The plants will usually be killed instantly by the first frost.
March in the Garden
While I've got my battered gardening hat on, I feel the urge to mention chervil again. It’s not that easy to find on sale in supermarkets but it’s a useful, decorative and easily grown herb. Some of last summer’s plants set seed in my garden and, as a result, some young plants survived the mild winter and are producing an excellent spring crop.
Chervil
Now I really must get around to cooking something.

6 comments:

  1. This is so curious Phil, never tasted New Zealand spinach before, now I would love some! look forward to your recipe : )
    best wishes, Ozlem

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  2. Haven't heard of New Zealand spinach, or even grown the usual kind. Must find a space for some as we love it. Agree with you about chervil - it's very underrated; have some in my herb planter, and it's survived the winter.

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  3. This sounds like my kind of plant! One that does well with neglect haha. I've got into gardening a bit more after growing some cucamelons last year. This year I have some more interesting seeds so hopefully they'll do well (they probably need more attention than your New Zealand spinach) and I can post about them!

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  4. Convinced. I am going to get some seeds & if they survive my gardening it will be a miracle.

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  5. Have never heard of that sort of spinach, intrigued. I do love chervil though, you've just reminded me that I must plant some for this year!

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  6. I am convinced Popeye would approve! It's at this point I wish I wasn't an incompetent gardener...

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