Monday, May 7, 2018

Okinawan vs Cholesterol Spinach

I've already posted about this veggie, back on October 24, 2017. But I've recently been getting questions about it, so I'd like to say a bit more about what I've been observing, how I grow it, and how we eat it. 

Okinawan spinach and cholesterol spinach appear to be the same veggie. They seem to be slightly different variations, much like the differences seen between sweet potato varieties. Okinawan spinach is bicolored. The leaf tops are a moderate deep green while the undersides are a bright purple. It tends to be more stemmy as opposed to leafy. And it has a slightly stronger flavor than its sister. Cholesterol spinach has a medium green leaf which, on my plants, is a bit larger, broader, and fleshier than Okinawan. It appears to have a more filled in, almost bushiness growth habit. And it's flavor is slightly milder. Both plants have identical flowers and growth habits. They smell the same when I harvest the leaves. 

Above, cholesterol soinach growing in partial shade. 

These plants are not in the spinach family. But they make nice greens for salads and cooking. We prefer to eat the young leaves raw in salads. But I have dropped the leaves at the last minute into simmering chicken broth and added them at the last minute to stir fries. When overcooked they get a bit of a slimy texture, which we don't like. 

I've found these to be easy to grow. And better yet, it's a crop I can grow in the shade. Whoopie! Finding crops for full shade is difficult. An added plus is that I can feed the excess to my livestock. By the way, the Internet says that this grows best in full sun or partial shade. I've found that mine does far better in partial shade to full shade. It grows ok in full sun, but looks better when it gets shade. Perhaps our tropical sun is too intense for it. That being said, the Okinawan spinach seems to thrive in full shade while the cholesterol spinach does better in partial shade. 

Above, cholesterol spinach. The undersides are green. 

Did I say that it is easy to grow? Well, it's ridiculously easy to grow. It doesn't seem to mind any particular soil that I plant it in. I don't even have to improve the soil first. It's one tough hombre, and that's one reason I love it. And while it produces better with good soil moisture, I really don't have to irrigate it at all, though during a drought it stops growing and older leaves will fall off. I have large sections growing in areas where I can't irrigate at all. Plus it's not pH fussy. It looks more lush in 6.5 pH soil, but it hums along just fine in soil where I've done nothing to adjust the acidic pH. 

Growth habits-- it's a stemmy plant that's not really a vine. But the stems keep growing and can get several feet long if not cut back, especially true for the Okinawan spinach. Under moist conditions, stems that laying on the soil may sprout roots. The plant takes pruning really well, including severe pruning. Pruning will encourage side shoots and plenty of new leaves. Since I routinely harvest stems & leaves for the livestock, my plants get a lot of pruning, and they bounce back fairly quickly. When left unpruned, flowers will be produced on the stem tips. When flowering, I notice that plant growth and new leaf production dramatically slows down. So I usually prune back plants that start flowering. 

Above, the flowers form on thin individual stalks on the tips of the long stem. The flowers look the same on Okinawan and cholesterol spinach. 

Neither Okinawan spinach nor cholesterol spinach seem to be heavy feeders, but if grown in compost they can become very robust and lush plants. I normally supply nutrients via a compost mulch applied every few months. I guess I'm doing that 4 times a year. It seems to be enough to encourage good growth. 

Above, Okinawan spinach growing in full shade. 

As for pests and diseases, I don't see much. I really haven't noticed any insect problems. Nor do the mice and rats eat it. I've been warned about slugs, but honestly, I haven't seen slugs on it either variety.

Above, the undersides are bright purple. 

Propagating these plants is simple. It can't get any easier. Just make a stem cutting about 12 inches long. Remove the leaves in the bottom half of the cutting (you probably really don't need to do this, but it's easier for me to handle a clump of cuttings this way). Use a tool to open a slice or hole in the soil. Poke the bare stem into the hole. Pour in a cup or two of water. Close the hole. Done.  This is one crop that I can plant into untilled soil. While I've heard of people rooting the cuttings in water first, I find that not only unnecessary but actually somewhat detrimental. My fresh cut cuttings take root 100%.  Those put into water for pre-rooting sometimes die. 

So how do I go about harvesting? I just cut a length of stem, then snip off the young leaves and tips, dropping them into a bowl. The stem and older leaves go to feed the livestock. I find that the very young leaves and tips taste best, but that may be just personal preference. Hubby prefers the green cholesterol spinach because it is milder in flavor than the Okinawan spinach. 

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