Malabar spinach isn’t really spinach, but it’s a similar type of greens that comes from the tropics, India in particular. It grows well in the Arkansas summers when other types of spinach turn bitter from the heat. It has more substance that the types of spinach we usually eat and it is not as slimy. A great plus is that it produces all summer. It can keep growing until the temperatures hit 35 degrees. It grows as an annual, but often it reseeds and comes up the next spring.
Sharon Dent has been growing Malabar spinach for five summers. She first saw it at Schults Nursery in Hot Springs and then found the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. She’s found the plants in several local stores in the last few years.
Malabar spinach is a member of the Basellaceae family. Basella alba is a green leaf variety while the red leaf variety belongs to the B. rubra species, which has purplish stems. The vines are quite attractive and can be trained to grow as an edible ornamental.
It takes 70 days from spring planting to harvest. Sharon usually starts harvesting it in mid-June. She plants it in large pots. Typically there are three to five pots of it planted with tomatoes on her front patio. Malabar spinach takes some shade which is good because her patio has filtered shade in the morning. It does fine, but in shady areas the vine tends to climb trying to reach the sun. More sun might be better.
Malabar spinach likes moist fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. You can trellis it alone or with peas or tomatoes or cucumbers. The Malabar spinach climbs up Sharon’s tomato vines which are staked or caged. Since tomatoes are heavy feeders, she feeds the tomatoes and Malabar spinach combo monthly and waters most days to keep them growing vigorously.
Malabar spinach is rich in Vitamins A and C, as well as iron and calcium. Sharon tries to serve it several times weekly because it is so nutrient rich.
Fall is approaching and it will soon be planting time for fall and winter gardens. Greens of all types are nutritious and versatile and great candidates for your garden. I plant greens in my flower beds. A border of spinach in a winter flower bed adds unexpected green during brown months.
Greens can be used in salads, steamed, sauteed and in a wide range of recipes. One of my favorites is ham stuffed with spinach. Another is a kale and peach smoothie.
Among the easy-to-grow greens are kale, Swiss chard, spinach, collards, mustard, tender greens, and turnip greens. My family eats the leaves from the cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants too. Also delicious are arugula, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and a wide range of lettuces.
Greens are best suited for cool weather growing. They like consistent moisture, and insufficient water will inhibit growth. Cabbage worms and slugs sometimes attack your crops. Pluck them off, or use Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) to get rid of the pests.
Keep the growing areas free of competing weeds. Applying mulch helps discourage weeds and preserve moisture in the soil.
Let me know your favorite greens and recipes for using them.