GARDENERS FACTSHEET NO. 10
GROWING SPINACH IN THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Dr. John M. Gerber
Most attempts to grow true spinach (Spinacea oleracea) in
the Virgin Islands have failed due to high temperature and serious
pest problems. Many excellent spinach substitutes are available
that grow well and taste better than frozen spinach available from
the U.S. mainland.
MALABAR SPINACH(Basella sp.)
Malabar spinach is known as Indian spinach if it has green
leaves and Ceylon spinach if it has red leaves. It is a succulent
vine with tender leaves that can be grown year round if water is
Planting should be done at the beginning of the rainy
season. Apply 2 lbs/100 ft. row (1 cup/25 ft.) of 10-10-10 fertilizer
prior to planting. Applications of manure may also increase
production. Insect problems are minimal, making this a highly
desirable vegetable for backyard production.
When grown as a perennial, the vine should be trained on a
fence or trellis with the plants 3 ft. apart. It can be maintained in
this fashion for many years with proper watering, fertilizing and
pruning. Water must be available throughout the year and the
plants should be fertilized twice with 2 lbs./100 ft. row (1 cup/25
ft.) of 10-10-10 fertilizer. The first fertilization should be just prior
to the rainy season to encourage maximum leaf growth. After the
rainy season, cut the plants back severely and fertilize again.
Apply water during the dry season for continuous production. If
irrigation water is not available, Malabar spinach can be grown as
an annual during the rainy season.
Weeds, the major problem, should not be allowed to
compete with the plant. A leaf spot or blight may occur during the
rainy season, but can be prevented with a broad spectrum
fungicide such as Maneb or Captan.
AMARANTH (Amaranthus sp.)
Chinese spinach, Tampala or edible amaranth consists of
several species of annual plants that may be used as greens. The
plant grows upright and produces spinach-like leaves that may
be green, red or variegated.
Amaranth can be planted directly from seeds or trans-
planted into the garden in rows 3 ft. apart with plants 4-6 inches
apart in the row. Since germination is irregular, transplanting is
recommended to insure a solid row of plants. About 6 weeks
after planting you may begin harvesting the young tips to use as
boiled greens. New growth will be stimulated by removing 6
inches of the young stem and leaves every two weeks.
Amaranth will require weekly spraying of Sevin to prevent
insect damage. Wait at least 3 days after spraying to harvest
leaves for your table. Fertilization is also necessary, since it has a
high requirement for nitrogen. Apply 4 lbs. of 10-10-10 fertilizer
per 100 ft. row (2 cups/25 ft.) and plenty of manure prior to
NEW ZEALAND SPINACH (Tetragonia tetragonoides)
New Zealand spinach is a good source of greens that is
easily grown during the rainy season. Since the seeds are slow
to germinate, they should be soaked in water for 24 hours just
prior to planting. Plant the seeds 1 ft. apart in rows 3 ft. apart.
New Zealand spinach responds to good soil fertility. Apply
4 lbs. of 10-10-10 per 100 ft. (2 cups/25 ft.) row prior to planting.
Pesticides should not be necessary since it has few pest
problems other than weed competition. Harvesting 3-4 inches of
young stem and leaves often will encourage new growth.
CHINESE AND JAPANESE GREENS
Research at the C.V.I. Agriculture Experiment Station
indicates that oriental greens may be the best spinach substitute
for Virgin Islands. A number of tropical plants are available that
may be used as spinach substitutes. Several of these are difficult
to distinguish from true spinach after cooking.
These oriental greens may be grown during the rainy
season with few pest problems. They should receive adequate
fertilizer (4 lbs. of 10-10-10 per 100 ft. row). Plant the seeds or
transplants 12-18 inches apart in rows at least 2 ft. apart.
The following oriental greens have grown well in the Virgin
Chinese Tsai Shim
Hon Tsai Tai
Tinhao Hybrid Kailaan
These and other oriental greens are available from the seed
companies listed in this publication.
CHAYA (Cnidoscolus chayamansa)
While Chaya is not yet common in the Virgin Islands, it has
been acclaimed in Puerto Rico as a potential spinach substitute as
well as a perennial ornamental, requiring little care and having no
known insect problems.
Chaya is started from woody cuttings, 4-6 inches long that
are rooted directly in the garden. Since the plant tends to grow
slowly at first, it is important not to let weeds choke the young
Chaya plant. Once established however, it will grow rapidly,
allowing a continuous harvest of tender, nutritious leaves and
CAUTION: The Chaya leaves are poisonous if eaten raw.
Boiling for 20 minutes until the leaves are soft will destroy all of
the toxic hydrocyanic acid.
TRUE SPINACH (Spinacea oleracea)
For those gardeners who insist on growing true spinach, it
must be grown during the coolest months of the year. A
November planting will probably have the best chance of
producing edible plants. If you only have a few plants, daily
misting should help keep the plants cool. Try some of the new
Japanese hybrid spinach varieties that are somewhat heat
A major problem for true spinach grown in the Virgin
Islands is the beet webworm which can defoliate young plants
unless you provide constant vigilance and weekly sprays of
Sevin. Inspect the underside of your spinach leaves often for a
white web containing a young caterpillar. This caterpillar should
be destroyed by hand since the insecticide will not penetrate the
A safe and effective substitute for Sevin is Thuricide or
Dipel which contain bacterial spores known as Bacillus
thuringiensis (B.t.) which, while attacking the beet web-worm will
not harm plants, humans or other animals.
SOURCES OF TROPICAL LEAFY-GREEN VEGETABLES
Sakata & Co.
akaa & Co. For a wide assortment of tropical greens including the oriental
C.P.O.Box Yokohama No. 11 varieties.
Yokohama, Japan, 220-91
Takii & Co.
0. B 7 K C l For a wide assortment of tropical greens including the oriental
P. 0. Box 7 Kyoto Central .
Mayaguez Institute of Tropical Agriculture
P. 0. Box 70 For Chaya, Ceylon spinach, amaranth and others.
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Gurney Seed & Nursery Co. .
rney Sed & N y C. For Malabar spinach or climbing spinach.
Yankton, S.D. 57079
Rodale Press, Inc.
33 East Minor St. For amaranth.
Emmanus, Pa. 18049
V.I. Department of Agriculture
Estate Lower Love For assorted seed and plants.
St. Croix, U.S.V.I.
Products and suppliers mentioned by name in this publication are used as examples and in no way imply endorsement or recommendation of these products or
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914 (as amended), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, D.S. Padda, Director, College of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service. The College of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension
Service is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action organization, providing educational services in the field of agriculture, home economics, rural
development, 4-H youth development and related subjects to all persons regardless of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.