What to Grow When it’s (Very) Hot: Vine Spinach
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I’m so happy.
It’s suddenly a cool thing to be self sufficient and a lot of people are buying seeds and starting their own little gardens. I have been blown away by the number of questions and comments I’ve had in the last few weeks and I am beyond excited to keep sharing my self sufficient permaculture, slow life with you.
The biggest question I have from local city growers right now is, what’s in season? What can I plant?
It’s April you see, and I live in Southern Mexico on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and we are having our seasonal heat waves where the temperatures can reach up to 40-45*C (100-107*F). On average this type of weather starts at the end of March and lasts until mid-June or until the rains start. The high temperatures make it hard to germinate new seeds, and it’s even harder to keep small and delicate plants alive.
There is one notable exception, the humble vine spinach will grow new shoots even in the harshest of sun. It does need watering, don’t get me wrong, but the seedlings are tough enough to beat the heat.
Yucatecan spinach is my name for it, but I have also heard of this plant called vine spinach, climbing spinach and Malabar spinach. If you’re missing anything, it’s scientific name is Basella alba. I call it yucatecan spinach because it was given to me by someone who called it that, but later I learned this vine actually originated in the Asian tropics. No matter, it’s been in the Yucatan long enough to become a local.
How to Grow it:
The seeds of this plant start purplish white and then turn a deep purple black when ready.
You can gently break off the seeds and dry them for future planting or immediately drop them into soil.
This plant prefers humid, rich soil and full sun exposure.
Don’t distress this seed is tough and can take up to 3 weeks to germinate, keep the soil moist at all times.
The stems of this vine root easily. I usually trellis the vines, and any left on the ground will likely root themselves. If you want to give a cutting to a friend, use a sharp knife or shears to cut off a portion with 5-6 leaves. Put this cut side down in normal compost rich soil, keep moist, and it will soon root and stat to vine out.
I mentioned this plant will beat the heat, but it also withstands the rainy season downpours and pests. I’ve been growing it continuously for a number of seasons and it roots itself readily from shoots and seeds.
Vines can easily grow 3 meters or 10 feet long and each vine will set a great deal of edible leaves that can be harvested from continuously. Unlike the other local spinach, chaya, this plant has no thorns.
This spinach is a fast grower and I recommend training it on a trellis or up your wall. It will wind itself, but I continuously maintain it and help it find the right criss crossing grid pattern for my particular trellis. It also likes to grow onto my neighboring trees (especially during the rainy season) but I check in every few days to pull out any stray vines.
Seeds will also form at least yearly, if not more often, and it is best to remove them when they turn a deep purple color. If you leave the seeds they will fall and self seed and the vines will quickly take over the space given. I’ve even had a vine sneak all the way across my garden once, don’t underestimate this plant’s ability to grow.
How to Eat it:
On this blog, how to cook the plants is just as important as how to grow them.
I’ve found this spinach tastes best when you harvest the leaves that are the size of your palm or smaller. They become very earthy and sharp when larger, so try them raw and cooked to find your preference. You can also eat the young vines (say if too many seedlings grow), but they can quickly become tough and I usually leave them to root and grow more leaves.
This spinach can be used just like store bought varieties and is great fresh in green juice, smoothies and salsas. Mostly I use it chopped and cooked into soups, stir fries and pasta dishes. It’s also a favorite green in my taco mixes. If you are keen, it can be blanched and freezes well which is good news if your vines over produce for you.
Other Hot Loving Plants:
There are a few other plants that can grow in the harsh temperatures: profiles on them coming soon
You can also find more about the Merida, Yucatan growing season and when to plant here.