Vegetable Production and Marketing News
November 2000


Edited by
Frank J. Dainello, Ph.D.
Extension Horticulturist - Commercial Vegetable Crops
The Texas A&M University System
College Station, Texas 77843-2134

Special Spinach Edition

In this issue . . .

You may click on each article or scroll down.

National Spinach Conference
Enjoying Texas-Grown Spinach
A Comparison of the Nutrient Content of Spinach and Lettuce Types
A New Spin On Spinach

National Spinach Conference

The Cooperative Texas A&M University and The University of Arkansas Spinach Program will host the National Spinach Conference in San Antonio, Texas, on December 14, 15, and 16, 2000.

Participants are invited to an informal evening reception on Thursday, December 14. A full-day program on spinach production and marketing is planned for Friday, and there will be a tour of the Winter Garden spinach production area on Saturday. See program agenda for tentative tour schedule.

A registration fee of $50 will be charged to help cover costs of meals and tours. This fee is payable to the National Spinach Meeting and is due by November 1st. Late registration will be $75. Click here for a conference registration form.

Conference headquarters will be the spacious Omni Hotel in San Antonio. We have secured a special room rate of $70 for a single, and $89 for a double for this event. Reservations are due by November 14, 2000, to insure you receive the conference rate. Call 1-800-THE OMNI (800-843-6664) to reserve your room today.

Looking forward to meeting and visiting with you in San Antonio.

Dr. Larry Stein
TAMU-Agricultural Research & Extension Center
P. O. Box 1894
Uvalde, TX 78802-1849
fax: (830) 278-4008

Dr. Frank Dainello
Department of Horticultural Sciences
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-2143

National Spinach Conference Agenda

December 14, 15, and 16, 2000
Omni Hotel, San Antonio, Texas

Thursday, December 14:
Informal reception - Omni Hotel - 6:30 p.m.

Friday, December 15:
Paper presentations (topics)

  1. Breeding and Genetics
    • Breeding white rust-resistant spinach. T. E. Morelock and J. C. Correll, University of Arkansas
    • Quantitative and qualitative resistance to downy mildew of spinach. J. C. Correll, T. E. Morelock, and B. M. Irish, University of Arkansas
    • Biochemical mechanisms of aphid resistance in spinach. R. Musser, G. Felton, and T. E. Morelock, University of Arkansas
  2. Pest Control
    • Zoxium, a new fungicide. Kenneth Burchert, Rohm and Haas.
    • Herbicide evaluations for Texas spinach. Lynn Brandenberger, Texas A&M University
    • The effect of surfactants on white-rust disease of spinach. B. M. Irish, J. C. Correll, and T. E. Morelock, University of Arkansas.
    • New chemistry from Novartis. Brad Minton, Novartis
    • Spinach production and pest management in California. S. T. Koike, University of California
    • Benefits of fungicides and host resistance in reducing yield and quality loss due to foliar diseases in spinach. K. L. Everts, M. T. McGrath, and S. A. Johnston, Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center
    • Spinach viruses in Southwest Texas. M. C. Black, Texas A&M University
  3. Production and Culture
    • Spinach production and marketing trends. Jose G. Pena, Texas A&M University
    • Growth and quality of spinach are affected by planting systems. D. I. Leskovar, L. A. Stein, and F. J. Dainello, Texas A&M University
    • Packaging design for fresh-cut spinach leaves. Julio Loiaza, F. J. Dainello, and Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, Texas A&M University
  4. Nutrition and Consumer Acceptance
    • Health benefits of spinach. Luke Howard, University of Arkansas
    • Lutein and beta carotene content of selected spinach genotypes. J. A. Kirkpatrick, R. A. Gard, J. B. Murphy, and T. E. Morelock, University of Arkansas
    • Consumer acceptance of spinach as a replacement for iceberg lettuce on sandwiches. M. E. Fitch-Hilgenberg, University of Arkansas
    Saturday, December 16:
    Tour Winter Garden Spinach Production

    Tentative Tour Agenda

    • 7:30-8:30 a.m. - Board buses. Depart at 8:00 a.m. sharp. Travel highway 90west to Uvalde; possible stop at spinach field in D’Hanis
    • 9:45 a.m. - Agri Link Foods - tour of freezing plant
    • 10:45 a.m. - Board buses to leave for Crystal City
    • 11:00 a.m. - View fresh-market spinach harvest - Ed Ritchie
    • 11:30 a.m. - View processing spinach harvest and strip-trial plots - Del Monte
    • 12:30 p.m. - Lunch - grower farm or Del Monte Research Farm. Winter Garden history and background: Kenneth White
    • 1:30 p.m. - Del Monte Research Farm
      • Screening nursery
      • Fungicide trial
      • Fertility trial
      • Herbicide trial
      • Yield trial
    • 3:00 p.m. - Load buses for return trip to Omni Hotel

    Enjoying Texas-Grown Spinach
    By Dr. Jerry Parsons
    Texas Agricultural Extension Service
    San Antonio, Texas

    To be aware of and concerned about one’s health, fitness, and life is the latest “fad” in America. A strong part of this “new” awareness is the understanding that in order for the body to thrive and perform, it must be well nourished, rather than just well fed.

    But what exactly does nutrition mean? The dictionary defines it as the process by which the food material taken into an organism is converted into living tissue. The USDA simplifies this by saying that food is essential for the energy we need to move, breathe, think, and grow. The nutrients in food maintain the building, the upkeep, and the repair of the body tissue as well as the basic functions of the body.

    The nutrients which the USDA finds valuable for good health are: food energy, expressed in calories; protein, fat and fiber; calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, thiamin (Vitamin B-1), riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), niacin, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), and beta-carotene (Vitamin A).

    America is in love with salads. The fast food restaurants have salad bars now which makes it easy to enjoy a quick lunch of fresh, tasty vegetables. Whether you’re creating that salad at a restaurant or in your own kitchen, it is good to know what is nutritional.

    The main ingredient of a salad is obviously the leafy stuff. Most of us are proficient at growing the salad additives such as tomatoes, broccoli and carrots but I will bet my hat that few of us have grown an acceptable lettuce crop. By “acceptable” I mean crunchy and sweet - - anyone can grow leaf lettuce and it tastes as its name implies, like leaves. Most of us want crunch and sweet when we eat lettuce. The best way to get both is not to grow lettuce but to grow spinach.

    Nutritionally speaking, spinach is a super-champ of the vegetable garden. Spinach has twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and B-2, niacin and Vitamin C as any other of the leafy greens.

    Spinach is easy to grow especially in this area of Texas. Commercial growers in this area produce 90 percent of all the spinach consumed in the United States and almost 50 percent of the entire world’s supply.

    Spinach is an unusual vegetable. It shares the honor with asparagus of being a dioecious plant. That is, unisexual with pollen-producing male flowers on one plant and seed-bearing female flowers on a separate plant. Spinach is classified as a “very hardy cool season crop.” Although it can be grown almost anywhere in the Unites States, it does best at a mean temperature of 50 to 60 degrees F. If planted in late spring, when hot weather is approaching, the plant will quickly form a flower stalk, going to seed after the development of only a few leaves.

    Spinach varieties are available in flat-leaved, semi-crinkle-leaved (semi-savoy) and crinkle-leaved (savoy) types. The flat-leaved types are best suited for canning and the crinkle-leaved types are best for fresh use. Because of the fungus diseases which damage spinach growth and leaf appearance, only certain varieties should be used. Spinach is a cool-season crop which should be planted from seed in September. Spinach seed germinates very poorly in warm soils. Therefore, to avoid a poor stand, the first planting should occur when soil temperatures are 75 degrees F. or below which is now the case. Soil temperatures in this range will occur about 8 weeks prior to the first anticipated fall frost.

    Additional plantings can be made up until about 6 to 8 weeks before temperatures are expected to drop near 20 degrees F. at which temperature spinach is often damaged or even killed. Gardeners in this area can continue planting right through winter and into early spring. Spinach should always be seeded directly in your garden. Ideally, there should be sufficient moisture in the soil at planting time to result in germination and emergence of the seedling without having to apply additional water. If soil is too dry when it’s time to plant, consider watering several days or so before planting to supply the needed moisture. Applying water after planting to supply the moisture needed for germination often causes seedling diseases and is best avoided.

    The seed can be scattered or broadcast over the top of the bed, or it can be planted in rows. Generally, planting in rows is preferable since weeds which emerge near the spinach seedlings can be more easily removed. If your planting bed is about 20 inches wide, 4 rows of spinach can be seeded across the top, leaving plenty of room for the plants to develop.

    Regardless of your planting system, the seed should be covered to a depth of one-half inch. Always use more seed than needed to ensure a good stand. Depending upon conditions, the seedlings should be up in about 7 to 10 days. About 2 weeks after emergence, thin the seedlings to a spacing of 4 to 6 inches apart.

    About 10 days to 2 weeks after thinning, you should stimulate the growth of your spinach with a light application of nitrogen fertilizer. Use about one-half pound of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for each 30 feet of row planted in spinach. Apply the fertilizer to the side of the plants and then water it in lightly.

    As your crop of spinach grows, its important that you provide sufficient soil moisture. Remember that spinach has a rather shallow and limited root system, with most of the feeder roots in the top 8 to 10 inches of soil. Therefore, frequent watering is necessary.

    Approximately 6 to 10 weeks after planting, depending upon the variety and the weather, it’s harvest time. You’ll note that as the weather cools down your spinach will take a little longer to fully mature and will grow more upright. Generally, spinach that matures when temperatures average between 50 degrees and 60 degrees F. will be fuller-bodied and of higher quality.

    Harvesting is usually done either by removing the older, outer leaves, or by pulling up the whole plant. A third method that works quite well is to harvest foliage with a sharp knife, leaving the crown or growing point of the plant and roots in place so that a second crop can be produced by the same plant. A light application of fertilizer (ammonium sulfate) and watering should follow this type of harvest to encourage new leaf growth.

    Europeans and Americans eat the leaves which are dark green with rounded leaf edges. However, entire plants with red roots and dandelion-like leaves are preferred in Japan. The simplest and most nutritious way to eat spinach is raw in salad substituted for, or with, lettuce. When cooking spinach, care should be taken not to overcook it, boiling away flavor and nutrients. To cook it successfully, wash and put it in a covered pan with only the water clinging to the leaves. Steam over a medium flame for 3 to 5 minutes. Butter, bacon bits, or sauteed onions can be added for complementary flavoring. More elaborate spinach dishes include Eggs Florentine (poached eggs placed in spinach and hollandaise sauce), spinach-stuffed tomatoes, spinach quiche and spinach fondue. Other interesting dishes are spinach potato soup, spinach cheese balls deep fat fried, spinach-shrimp omelet ring, spinach and chicken or ham -- Chinese style, spinach and shredded beet ring, and spinach-tuna salad.

    So, if you’re not already growing some, plant and start eating nutritious spinach - - insure a sweet crunch.

    A Comparison of the Nutrient Content of Spinach and Lettuce Types

    A Comparison of the Nutrient Content of Spinach and Lettuce Types

    SpinachLettuce, icebergLettuce, looseleafLettuce, romaineLettuce, butterhead
    NutrientUnitsValue per 100 grams of edible portion
    Total lipid (fat)g0.3500.1900.3000.2000.220
    Carbohydrates, by differenceg3.5002.0903.5002.3702.320
    Fiber, total dietaryg2.7001.4001.9001.7001.000
    Calcium, Camg99.00019.00068.00036.00032.000
    Iron, Femg2.7100.5001.4001.1000.300
    Magnesium, Mgmg79.0009.00011.0006.00013.000
    Phosphorus, Pmg49.00020.00025.00045.00023.000
    Potassium, Kmg558.000158.000264.000290.000257.000
    Sodium, Namg79.0009.0009.0008.0005.000
    Zinc, Znmg0.5300.2200.2900.2500.170
    Copper, Cumg0.1300.0280.0440.0370.023
    Manganese, Mnmg0.8970.1510.7500.6360.133
    Selenium, Semg1.0000.2000.2000.2000.200
    Vitamin C, ascorbic acidmg28.1003.90018.00024.0008.000
    Pantothenic acidmg0.0650.0460.2000.1700.180
    Vitamin B-6mg0.1950.0400.0550.0470.050
    Vitamin B-12mcg0.0000.0000.0000.0000.000
    Vitamin A, IUIU6715.000330.0001900.0002600.000970.000
    Vitamin A, REmcg_RE672.00033.000190.000260.00097.000
    Vitamin Emg_ATE1.8900.2800.4400.4400.440
    Fatty acids, saturatedg0.0560.0250.0390.0260.029
    Fatty acids, monounsaturatedg0.0100.0070.0120.0080.008
    Fatty acids, polyunsaturatedg0.1460.1000.1590.1060.117
    Amino Acids
    Aspartic acidg0.2400.1270.1420.1770.141
    Glutamic acidg0.3430.1620.1820.2270.180
    USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 12 (March 1998)

    A New Spin On Spinach
    Texas and Arkansas growers are not about to let California rule the lucrative fresh-market spinach boom

    By Lisa Heacox
    Reprinted from AMERICAN VEGETABLE GROWER, MAY, 2000
    Heacox is a contributing writer based in Northeast Ohio

    Who says California growers should lay sole claim to America’s new love affair with spinach? Certainly not Texas And Arkansas producers who are out to reclaim their presence in a market valued at more than $50 million.

    Until the 1950s, Texas was a spinach mecca, with some 44,000 acres of both fresh and processing spinach. In fact, the center of the Wintergarden production region, Crystal City, boasts a monument to the legendary spinach-guzzler, Popeye.

    But decades of disease problems and antiquated postharvest handling techniques have reduced Texas acreage nearly 80%. The state now produces about 2,700 acres for fresh market and 7,500 acres for processing. Its neighbor to the east, Arkansas, has exited the fresh market completely, but still claims about 2000 to 4000 acres for processing.

    “We basically ship spinach out of Texas the same way we did in the ’40s," explains Frank Dainello, Texas A&M University professor and extension specialist. Unfortunately, due to a high respiration rate, spinach is highly perishable, and the grade-out is considerable by the time the crop reaches the packer. “Consequently, we’re just not putting a quality product on the marketplace. It’s a quality product in the field, but we’re just not geared up to handle it,” admits Dainello.

    Texas growers have watched the startling rise of California’s “baby leaf” spinach industry with a touch of envy. They’ve seen California growers meet consumers’ preferences for an attractive, bagged product so successfully that the state now commands 70% of the country’s fresh spinach market with some 12,000 acres in production.

    The need for a concerted effort to save the spinach industry in Texas really came to a head about four years ago when growers faced major weed problems and called upon Texas A&M to assist in securing a Section 18 for Dual herbicide. Dainello says he agreed to help, but drove home the need for ongoing grower funding for spinach research.

    Nearly 60 growers banded together to form the Texas Wintergarden Spinach Producers Association, whose goal is to first fund production research, and then fund promotional efforts for the state’s spinach. Third-generation grower Ed Ritchie serves as its president.

    Ritchie explains that the Board collects check-off funds from growers on a per-bushel basis for fresh market product and a per-ton cost for processing spinach. So far, the program has raised nearly $105,000 through assessments and contributions (about $30,000 annually) for work at Texas A&M University and The University of Arkansas. The two institutions have signed a cooperative spinach research agreement, and university officials there have even agreed to kick in some of their funds for the work.

    The first priority of the research is to address “the disease that essentially wrecked us: white rust,” says Dainello. “Because spinach is such a minor crop, we’re losing chemicals all the time, so we need new crop-protection products,” says Ritchie. Dainello is testing various chemistries, including some of the new-generation fungicides. He is trialing both Quadris (azoxystrobin, Zeneca) and Acti-Guard (CGA-245704, Novartis) and says they both look good, though neither is currently labeled for spinach in Texas.

    Researchers are also addressing variety development. In fact, The University of Arkansas runs the only public spinach breeding program left in the country. Its efforts, led by Teddy Morelock, have been fruitful. Arkansas has released a number of cultivars with resistance to white rust. The program has even identified a strain that possesses some aphid resistance.

    Ritchie has been thrilled with the breeding results thus far. He reports few problems with white rust in his spinach over the last four to five years, thanks to the Arkansas variety Fall Green and the Alf Christianson variety Samish, which contains Arkansas genetics. He’s also trialed Morelock’s newest introduction, AR310, and believes it “shows promise.”

    But disease resistance won’t solve Texas’ postharvest problems, and many growers don’t have enough spinach acreage to justify the cost for high-tech packing sheds. Ritchie also believes research will have to come up with a new type of packaging material that can preserve this highly perishable crop. It’s another project on the universities’ to-do lists.

    Down the road, check-off funding will be aimed at marketing Texas spinach to U.S. consumers. Dainello and the Board are not short on ideas:

    • Create a brand
      The group would like to develop a trademark for the Wintergarden region spinach, much as the Vidalia onion growers have. The Texas Department of Agriculture has already expressed an interest in promoting the concept, once it’s developed.

    • Create a new mix
      Dainello says the group wants to do something different than the premium “yuppie” salad mixes coming out of California. “We want to come up with something more Southern, maybe take spinach, some of our mustards, and some onion tops to create a spice flavor,” he explains. Getting the mixes into grocery stores will pose a challenge, he admits, as Texas producers don’t have the extensive buyer connections that huge California vegetable growers have developed.

    • Tout the nutrition
      Nutritionally, spinach is head and shoulders above many lettuces on the market today, particularly iceberg, which Dainello calls “a green container for water.” Morelock says breeding efforts could even tweak nutrient levels in spinach, which already possesses high levels of vitamin A, lutein (an antioxidant), and folic acid. Morelock also has items in his test plots with varied flavors and shapes that could be tapped into. For instance, one spinach variety has a fuller habit and could be coaxed into a head, to compete with the butterhead and premium lettuces.

    • Year-round presence
      Texas’ spinach season runs from late November into mid-March. By teaming with Arkansas and other states, such as Arizona and Colorado, growers can come close to making the tasty savoys available to stores all year.

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