Growing Spinach

Jul 16th, 2011 | By | Category: fall, Grow Something, winter

I’m strong to the finish when I eats me spinach I’m Popeye the sailor man! ~Popeye (the Sailor Man)

Spinach, Photo: Flickr, katerha

Spinach, Photo: Flickr, katerha

If you have your heart set on growing spinach—either flat leafed or crinkled (savoyed)—so you can be big and strong like Popeye the Sailor Man, then plant this cool season annual when it’s…well…cool outside. Actual planting dates vary depending on where you live.

Here’s what doesn’t vary: You may direct seed this tasty and healthy green into the garden when the soil temperature is at least 35°F. The optimal range for germination is 45° to 75°F with 70°F being the sweet spot. Folks living in colder climes may wish to start seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last freeze date putting them into the garden. As long as the seedlings have two true leaves when transplanted, they have a fighting chance.

Ready for prime time: Speaking of a fighting chance, consider “priming” the seeds before planting. This jump-starts the germination process. To prime spinach seeds, soak them in filtered water (chlorine in tap water can inhibit germination) overnight or up to 24 hours. This hydrates the seed and stirs the life within. You are not trying to sprout them. Remove the seeds from the water after their soak, and spread them out on a towel to absorb excess moisture. At this point you can plant them or store them in a covered jar for one to two days in the refrigerator before planting. Spinach seeds that have been primed, once planted, will germinate in half the time of none primed seeds.

Plant succession crops of spinach every 2 to 3 weeks.

Once the soil temperature reaches 85°F, spinach will bolt or go to seed. At this point you’ll want to harvest what you can and compost the rest and then wait until it gets cool again to plant. Or, you can try a spinach alternative like Malabar or New Zealand Spinach, which can take the heat.

Site: Spinach likes its soil the way some men like their women—rich and loose. Plant spinach in well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. Spinach can be persnickety, as it is one of the only vegetables that insist on a nearly neutral pH, which in this case is 6.0 to 6.8. Grow spinach in full sun or if you live in Texas as I do, or another blazingly hot and sunny locale, it can take partial shade, and may demand it.

How to plant: Plant spinach seed 1/2- inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart; if you are planting in rows, put nine inches between them. Once they sprout, thin to the strongest plants and throw the culls into a salad or stir fry. However, if you prefer the Square Foot gardening method, you can grow nine plants in one square foot. You can also grow spinach in containers if you wish. Because the plant is shallow-rooted, you won’t need a deep pot. You can grow them in one of those long rectangular planters or window boxes very nicely. If you do grow in containers, you have to monitor water and heat more closely as containers dry out faster than soil and they heat up faster, too.

Water and feeding: Consistency is critical to a good crop of spinach. Keep the soil evenly moist. This is where having a timed drip irrigation system comes in very handy. Drip irrigation will also keep soil from splashing muddy water onto the leaves, thus reducing potential pathogen problems. Cleaner leaves means it’s easier to prep them before eating easier, too. Spinach isn’t a greedy feeder. Once a month during the growing season water this vegetable with compost tea, or simply side dress with aged compost about mid-season.

Maintenance: Vegetables perform better when you keep weeds out of the bed. If your spinach bed has weedy invaders, don’t pull them up; cut them to the soil level. Why? Spinach roots are shallow, and if you start yanking weeds from around your plants you could damage your crop’s roots.

Garden Pests: Your kids may not like spinach, but aphids sure do. Aphids are small soft-bodied pests that congregate in large numbers on the undersides of leaves and suck the life out of your plants, leaving behind distorted foliage and a sticky substance called honeydew, which can encourage the growth of sooty mold. Use insecticidal soap on these invaders or—better yet—bring in beneficial insects like ladybugs to do the killing for you. Not very ladylike, but someone’s got to do it.

Diseases: Spinach, like vehicles in the upper Midwest, is susceptible to rust. Keep the garden clean of debris. Remove and destroy diseased plants.

Harvest: You can begin harvesting spinach at any time, but generally the leaves are mature and ready for harvest 40 to 52 days after sowing. Cut, don’t pull or twist the leaves from the plant, or you could dislodge them from the soil. With garden shears of a very sharp knife, you can cut a spinach plant about 3 inches above the soil, and they will grow on for a second harvest. Wash spinach thoroughly to eliminate the grit that sometimes sticks to crinkled leaves.

Storing and preserving: Spinach will maintain good flavor and texture for up to a week in the refrigerator. You can freeze blanched spinach, can or even dry the leaves.

Using Spinach: Spinach can be eaten raw or cooked. Wash the leaves by soaking them in a large bowl of water to remove any dirt or grit that may be on the leaves; swish the leaves around in the bowl and the debris will sink to the bottom. If the spinach is particularly gritty you may need to dump the water and rise again. Use leaves whole or as a chiffonade. When adding to cooked dishes, do so late in the cooking process.

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