Q: Is it too late to plant spinach?

Answer: Spinach, a member of the Chenopodiaceae family, grows best in the cooler temperatures of the spring and fall. Spinach seeds do not germinate well in warm soils and the leaves develop bitterness as a response to hot temperatures. There is a warm season vining plant which looks like spinach, but is native to tropical Asia. It is called Malabar spinach, a member of the Basellacea family, and it can be planted now and it will thrive in the heat of summer. Although it is not in the same plant family as spinach, the leaves look very similar, although growing on a vine. Because Malabar spinacah is a vining plant, you will need to provide support for it to grow on. There are green leafed and red leafed varieties. Both red- and green-leaf Malabar spinach is readily available from seed sources. Malabar spinach may be direct seeded in rows spaced 1 foot apart, with seeds spaced 1 to 2 inches and thinned to 6 inches between plants. Seed may take up to one month to germinate, even at the ideal germination temperature of 65 to 75 degrees. Prime growing temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Malabar spinach may also be propagated from cuttings. Keep your planting watered regularly, as drought conditions encourage blooming which in turn makes the leaves bitter. Malabar spinach is delicious as an addition to stir-fries or sautéed as greens.

Q: Is the city holding leaf mulch giveaways this year?

Answer: The city of Winston-Salem postponed the annual leaf mulch giveaway from April until May. Remaining dates that home gardeners can pick up leaf mulch are May 23 and 30 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. while supplies last. Free mulch is only for home gardeners in cars and pickup trucks with or without trailers. You must have a tarp to cover the load, or your vehicle will not be loaded. The leaf mulch may be picked up at the Forum 52 Yard Waste Facility, 180 Northstar Drive in the Forum 52 Business Park off Forum Parkway in Rural Hall. Everyone is asked to practice safe distancing, wear masks in public, and to allow the employees only to go about loading your vehicle. Leaf mulch makes a great addition to the garden once it has been composted. It is recommended that this season’s leaf mulch be used for this fall’s garden or in a lasagna mulch system for next spring’s garden. It is a good practice to add compost or other organic material to your garden each year to improve soil condition and to feed the beneficial soil microbes.

Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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