Juvenile Red Malabar Spinach is shown in this file photo.

Red Malabar Spinach Germination Info And Tips

When I first tried Red Malabar Spinach (Basella alba ‘Rubra’), I thought that I need to grow this spinach. I decided to go out to the store and pick up some seeds. After getting some seeds, I planted them and waited, but nothing happened. I looked around for answers about how long it would take to germinate but couldn’t find any real solution. I felt it would be appropriate to provide the answer, now that I’ve had experience growing this type of greens.

Red Malabar Spinach germinates in 6 to 12 days in normal conditions. However, germination can occur between 6 and 8 days if kept moist and at 80° F (26.67° C). If soil conditions are not optimal, red Malabar spinach seeds may take as long as 3-4 weeks to germinate.

Germination Techniques I Use For Red Malabar Spinach

I’ve grown a lot of different plants. Vegetables are one of my favorites for the overall type of plant to grow because the results are edible. I feel that there is no better feeling than providing food through a bit of labor and a lot of love. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I swear the food tastes better. That being said, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to germinating seeds.

Every year I like to germinate my seeds starting in January or February (depending on the species I’m dealing with). This way, by the time June rolls around, I’m planting vegetables that are already 1’-2’ tall already. And I start all my plants by seed.

The techniques I use for starting seeds began when I first started growing tomatoes. At the time, I had an entire room heated to keep my reptiles warm and comfortable. I had spoken with a family member who had some difficulty getting her tomato seeds to start. After extensive reading, I verified that tomatoes did like warmer temperatures, and thus I transferred my seed tray to my reptile room.  

The location where I placed my seed tray was a stable ambient 82° F (27.78° C). When I started germinating the red Malabar spinach, I used the same technique. But, I did something a little different with my spinach seeds compared to my tomato seeds. Here was my red Malabar spinach recipe for germination:

  1. Rinse seeds with warm water and a 5% hydrogen peroxide solution, mixed with the water at a ratio of 1:5 (1 part diluted food-safe hydrogen peroxide and five parts water). I would swirl this mixture with the seeds for about a minute.
  2. Using a sterile cheesecloth, I carefully strain the seeds.
  3. Place the seeds in a pure, organic earth mix. This mix consists of 10% coconut husk fiber, 10% peat moss, and 80% organic garden soil. I sterilize my soil by placing on black metal trays and baking in the sun for several hours. You can use any technique, though, this is simply one of my methods. It doesn’t work as well as an oven, but the trays heat up enough to give you a severe burn, so they suffice.
  4. Ensure the seeds are about ¼” under the soil and wet thoroughly. Please make sure they are in a well-drained pot, though.
  5. Water when moisture drops below moist, but don’t keep it too wet, or you’ll encourage mold. I like to cover the container with a clear plastic lid so I can see when the baby plant is pushing through the soil.  

Keeping the germination tray at a stable 80°-82° and using this method, I have achieved a near 100% success rate at germination occurring in 5-8 days. The standard seems to be around 96% for seeds germinating, which leaves about 4% where the seeds do not grow.

If you grow red Malabar, you’ll likely have some questions as I did. So, I thought I would share some of what I know with some common questions I had when I first started with this type of spinach.

Red Malabar Spinach growing in Farmer Jer's backyard garden in 2020.
Some juvenile Red Malabar Spinach growing in my backyard.

Common Questions About Red Malabar Spinach (Basella alba ‘Rubra’)

Are Red Malabar Spinach Seeds Edible?

Red Malabar Spinach seeds are edible. However, if you are not used to eating them, you should test a small amount to make sure you aren’t allergic.  

Is Red Malabar Spinach A Vine?

Red Malabar Spinach is a vine. Technically, it isn’t spinach at all but an Asian vine in the Basellaceae family.

What Other Names Are Used For Red Malabar Spinach?

Red Malabar Spinach has several other common names. It is also known as Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, Malabar nightshade, and vine spinach. The scientific name of the red Malabar spinach is Basella alba ‘Rubra.’

Is Red Malabar Spinach Good For You?

Red Malabar spinach is a plant that provides several nutrients. It is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, protein, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. The plant also provides decent amounts of magnesium as well as potassium.

What Does Red Malabar Spinach Taste Like?

Raw red Malabar spinach has thick and fleshy leaves with a taste with hints of citrus and peppers. When cooked, the plant leaves taste similar to regular spinach.

Are The Stems Of Red Malabar Spinach Edible?

Red Malabar spinach is edible. The young leaves and shoots are the most palatable. The stems are edible, but the younger the stems, the easier to ingest.

Where is Red Malabar Spinach From?

Red Malabar spinach is indigenous to India. The plant is also found in neighboring tropical lowlands. The plant enjoys humid and hot conditions making it a summer-only plant to grow in North America or Europe.

Is Malabar Spinach A Perennial?

Red Malabar spinach is a perennial vining plant. This tropical plant is not related to spinach. But it has been given the name due to the similarity in the taste of the cooked, fleshy leaves.

Can Red Malabar Spinach Be Grown Indoors?

Red Malabar spinach can be grown indoors, given the appropriate conditions. The plant, which is not spinach but a vine of tropical origins, prefers hot and humid conditions and full sun. For this reason, growing the plant indoors can be challenging but not impossible.

What Is The Best Way To Harvest Red Malabar Spinach?

Harvesting red Malabar spinach is best as soon as the plant is large enough to sustain the injury. Both the stems and leaves are edible and are most palatable when young. For the best taste, one should harvest the leaves and young stalls before the plant reaches the flowering stage.

Bibliography

Basella alba, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basella_alba, accessed June 1, 2020.

Red-Stemmed Malabar Spinach, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/red-stemmed_malabar_spinach, accessed June 1, 2020.

Plant Profile: Red Malabar Spinach, University of Georgia Extension: Cultivating Cherokee County, https://site.extension.uga.edu/cherokee/2016/09/plant-profile-red-malabar-spinach/, accessed June 1, 2020.

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