Spinach is a green, tender, leafy vegetable, which is now common among consumers especially in the urban areas. The leaves grow in a rosette and can appear crinkled or flat.
Stephen Kimani, a small-scale farmer from Kiambu county plants the vegetables in his small farm and sells them in the nearest markets. He explains how a beginner farmer can start a spinach farm.
Spinach requires well drained fertile soils with a pH of 6.4 to 7 and temperatures of between 16 and four degrees celcius. It is sensitive to acidic soil and a pH that is too high.
“They can withstand more harsh conditions depending on the variety,” said Kimani.
According to Kimani, Ford Hook Giant is the best variety as it can do well in a wide range of environmental conditions and is also the most common variety in Kenya. Other varieties include King of Denmark, New Zealand, Bloomsdale Long Standing, Giant Noble and Early Hybrid No. 7.
The vegetable is first sown in nurseries then they are transplanted. The nurseries are created by raising soil and creating furrow like lines to sow seeds which are then covered with soil. Farmers are advised to water the nursery twice daily, morning and evening. Mulching is encouraged to retain moisture on soil.
In about four to five weeks, the seedlings will have grown and produced true leaves and transplanting can be done. The land should be ploughed and harrowed.
Dig holes to a spacing of about 30cm by 30cm in uniform rows and columns, add compost manure and mix it with the soil. Plant one seedling in each hole and cover firmly with soil.
Spinach also has high requirements for nitrogen and potassium which should be provided by applying fertiliser based on the results of a soil test.
Potassium poses little environmental risk and may be applied based on the results of a soil test. Timing of nitrogen applications vary by location as there is a risk of leaching during heavy rainfall.
“In the home garden, fertiliser is often not required as long as spinach is planted in a fertile soil,” said Kimani.
Common pests and diseases
Diseases include Anthracnose, Damping off and Root rot, Downey mildew, Fusarium wilt, white rust and mosaic.
To manage diseases, apply insecticides and fungicides as directed, plant varieties that are disease resistant, ensure the soil is disease free and only plant seed from disease free plants.
Common pests include Aphids, Armyworms, Cabbage looper, wireworms and mites.
Management: You can prune the affected plants, insecticide application is better when the infestation is very high. Destroy crop debris immediately after harvest.
Spinach leaves can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to use and may be harvested by hand or machine. Individual leaves may be harvested as required in the home garden or the whole plant can be cut.
In commercial production, bunched fresh spinach is usually cut by hand. Spinach for processing may be cut by machine.
High demand for spinach vegetable has provided ready market for this kind of vegetable. It is important to note that spinach is highly perishable vegetable. Harvesting should be done with ready market or refrigeration can be done by placing stems on cold water to keep them fresh.
“You can sell your spinach in markets, restaurants, schools, supermarkets and through orders on your social media pages,” said Kimani.