Spinach by the Bucket
By Paul Fischer
One can easily grow a valuable and nutritious crop of Okinawan spinach in a 5 gallon plastic bucket. We started doing this about a year ago and use this perennial salad vegetable almost every day. It is incorporated into our family’s diet because it tastes good, doesn’t cost anything, is fresh picked, and it’s always ready a few steps outside our kitchen door.
There are several types of Okinawan spinach. One is dark green with purple on the undersides of the leaves, another is all green. The leaves are smaller and shaped differently than regular spinach. It almost looks like an ornamental plant.
I try to find my buckets, instead of buying them to save money and bring less plastic buckets into the world. Also, any residue in the plastic will be more likely outgassed and traces of chemicals leached out already. Obviously, if buckets previously contained toxic substances you don’t want to use those. The idea is to grow healthy food.
I drill four ¼ inch diameter holes in the sides about 4 inches up from the bottom. This creates a moisture reservoir in the bottom of the bucket. Unabsorbed water above the bottom 4 inches goes out these side holes, preventing accidental root damage from overwatering or a heavy rain.
I got my first starter cuttings from a friend. Then I rooted these cuttings by putting them in jars of water. Make sure the cut at the bottom of the stem is straight, not broke off, and that it is not left out in the blazing sun. If you do it right, you’ll have roots in a week or two.
Plant about two or three of those rooted sprigs in a bucket filled with soil. I like to leave the soil at least 3 inches down from the top. That leaves room for adding compost or mulch later.
After the bucket is fully established, I add a few trowels full of compost on the top when I notice the plant needs some nutrients added. It’s best to use free compost, but that’s another article to write another day.
When these spinach buckets get established they look like a small bush. These plants seem to like some shade. I water mine at least every other day. When harvesting, look over the bucket and on the ends of the stalks, there will be 3 or 4 tender new leaves. Those are the best ones, especially if you are going to eat them raw in a salad. You don’t want the older tougher leaves unless you are going to boil them. Also, leaving the established leaves keeps the plant alive and encourages growth.
I grab a fistful of these tender leaves while I’m enjoying my morning coffee, and then I cook them into an omelet or mix them in with my saimin. You can even make an entire salad if you have enough. We maintain about 10 buckets of this handy plant for our family.