How to Grow Spinach (Swiss Chard) in Zimbabwe

Friday, July 20, 2018

How to Grow Spinach in Zimbabwe

Swiss chard (Spinacia oleracea) was largely grown in Europe and extensively in Switzerland (hence the name Swiss chard). In the southern African region, it is commonly but incorrectly known as spinach. It is part of the beet family of vegetables and is essentially a beetroot without the bottom. The leaves of Swiss chard are very rich in Vitamin A, C, K, manganese and magnesium. The magnesium helps lower high blood pressure.

 So why consider growing it? It is not as popular as rape (leafy green vegetables) but has high yields and is easy to grow. 
Varieties
The main variety of spinach (Swiss chard) available in the Zimbabwe market is Ford Hook Giant. The leaves of this variety are green and fairly large and the stalks are thick and white. There are some cultivars that have different stalk colours i.e. yellow, white, green and white.

Seed Suppliers: Klein Karoo ( K2 Marketing), Charter Seeds, National Tested Seeds and Prime Seed Co.

Soil and Climate Requirements
Spinach (Swiss chard) prefers sandy loam to loamy soil with good drainage though it can tolerate other soil types. The optimal soil pH is 6. Test your soil to get your soil pH before planting because Swiss chard is sensitive to soil acidity. If your soil is too acidic, the lab can recommend lime applications to improve the soil pH and reduce soil acidity. Lime applications should be mixed at least several weeks before planting and adding compost.

Spinach (Swiss chard) is a cool season crop that prefers mild to cool temperatures of between 16-24 degrees C. While it can withstand low temperatures, growth is retarded at prolonged temperatures below 5 degrees C. It can be grown in the summer however hot weather can cause smaller and inferior leaves and plants are more susceptible to fungal disease. 

Pick an open, sunny spot to plant your Swiss chard though it can tolerate some shade in the summer.

Land Preparation

Practice crop rotation and select a site that has not had spinach grown in it for the past 3 years. This helps prevent root diseases and damping off.  

Prior to planting remove grasses and clear out any weeds and debris before planting. Till and disc the land to prepare it for planting at least a month before. Pre-irrigate the soil to field capacity. 

Beds should be made to a good tilth. For bed making you can use a ridger and set the raised bed width at 90cm.
Planting
Swiss chard can be direct seeded or transplanted. Direct seeding: Seeds can be sown 10-15cm in-rows and 45-50cm between rows. Plant seeds thinly 2 - 3 cm deep. 

Fertilizer Programme
Soil sampling is very important to be done to the soils before applying fertiliser. A soil test provides the most accurate fertilizer requirement. As a starter guide, you use Nitrogen at a rate of 125kg per hectare
Phosphorous at a rate of 25kg per hectare
Potassium at a rate of 125kg per hectare.
Basal fertilizer to apply is Cereal Blend at a rate of 500kgs per hectare (depending on soil analysis) After 4 weeks of growth then apply Ammonium Nitrate (AN) at a rate of 200kgs per hectare and at week 8 you apply Ammonium Nitrate (AN) at the same rate of 200kgs as a side dressing

Spinach (Swiss chard) needs plenty of nitrogen to produce good quality, broad leaves and yields. It also responds well to incorporating well-composted organic matter into the soil before planting. Immature compost can cause a wide range of problems.
Crop Care

Weeding

Spinach (Swiss chard) does not compete well with weeds. Therefore weed control is important during establishment. Mechanical cultivation or hand weeding can be used to control weeds. This method of cultivation should be shallow and not too close to the plants so as not to damage plant roots. Chemical weed control can be done by applying registered herbicides prior to bed formation.

Apply mulch such as straw or plastic mulch to keep weeds low and also retain soil moisture. 
Irrigation
As a guide, you need to apply at least 350mm of water in the cycle of producing Swiss chard. This crop suffers greatly from moisture stress because it has a very shallow root system, so it is important to keep it moist throughout the growing cycle. Moist soil also contributes to the development of new leaves. Apply about 30mm of water per week and adjust the amount about 10mm (more or less) depending on the crop needs. Certain periods such as plant establishment require more water. 
Pest and Disease Programme
Routine sprays are to be done based on the scouting results in the fieldAs a guide, you need 16 knapsacks to complete a hectare.
Leaf Miner
The leaf miners usually leave small strips of gold damage on the plants so scouting has to be tip top to observe this. Control: Triguard is a green label that can be used to control these leaf miners at 0.125kg/per 100 litres of water per hectare. You can add molasses as well to the solution at 2 litres per 100 litres of water. This chemical is not harmful to natural enemies of the miner. Wasps can be used to attack the leaf miners. Avoid planting near host fields of crops such as cotton.
Cutworms
Cutworms tend to appear at night and early morning and feed on small seedlings and hibernate under the ground during the day. Cutworms can harm the root system so that the plant wilts and collapses. ControlThey cut down the main stem so it’s important to drench the plants soon after planting.Soon after planting use Karate at a rate of 200ml per 100 litres of water per hectare. Biological control: Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) are effective on some species of cutworm.
Aphids
Aphids are green or black soft-bodied insects usually found on the underside of the leaves. They suck plant juices and leave the leaves looking pale in colour. They also transmit viral diseases. Scouters should search the heart of the plant for any aphids. Control: For chemical control, apply Dithane at a rate of 200 grams per 100 litres of water per hectare and Confidor will suffice at a rate of 50mls per 100 litres of water. You can spray with insecticidal soaps or spray with strong water steam to dislodge insects.
Nematodes
Signs of nematodes are swelling of the roots. Control: Vydate can be applied a week before planting at a rate of 15 litres per hectare or Nemacure at a rate of 25 litres per hectare. Do not plant in fields with high infestations of nematodes and practice crop rotation.
Diseases
Bacterial Spot
Usually starts on the leaves as small brown /black spots on the leaves which later grow and leave holes on the leaves. It also leaves lesions on the leaves. Control: you can use Copper oxychloride at a rate of 2kg per hectare.

Cercospora Leaf Spot

This causes small dark spots on the leaves. This affects the appearance of the leaves and renders them poor quality leaves. Control: Practice crop rotation. Plough in infected debris by deep ploughing.

Other diseases are downy mildew and damping off (seedlings).

Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to keep diseases under control including:
  • Practice good sanitation by removing and burning infected plants and removing all plant residue after harvesting 
  • Fertilize crops well
  • Practice crop rotation to avoid soilborne diseases
  • Scout fields regularly 
  • Control weeds that play host to cutworms
  • Use disease resistant cultivars
  • Correct mineral deficiencies in the soil
  • Avoid overwatering
Harvesting
Plants are available to harvest in about two months when leaves have reached a mature stage. Harvesting is by far the trickiest part of the growing process.

When harvesting only pick the larger leaves so that you still have room to harvest for longer. Harvest outer leaves first. If hand-harvesting, pluck down the outer leaves from the base of the plant downward or use a sharp knife to harvest the leaves leaf by leaf. Be careful not to harm new shoots and avoid over-harvesting at one picking.  Harvesting is continuous and can last for several months (up to 5 months).

 If harvested during the heat of the day, Spinach (Swiss chard) tends to wilt such that after an hour you can lose all you have harvested. It is better to harvest in the early morning. 

It is very necessary to harvest, clean and bundle the leaves and place in a cool shady area until it is dispatched to the consumer or market. When tying bundles ensure not to tie them too tight or it leads to decay. 

Spinach (Swiss chard) is highly perishable and has a shelf-life of about 8-10 days if stored in a refrigerator/cold room at 0-2 degrees C.Yields are typically about 20-30t/ha.

 Market
There are a number of retail markets that procure a number of bundles per week. Namely, most of the Food Lovers Markets dotted around Harare. There are also vendors that are also a regular that normally come from Mbare Musika Market and the Chikwanha Market in Chitungwiza. 

Avoid marketing older and yellowing leaves. Certain markets require leaves to be free of insect injury, decay or serious injury that affect the appearance of the leaves.



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