Edibles

Spinach: Sow and Grow

Spinach: Sow and Grow

One of the easiest ways to get your vitamins is to grow versatile spinach in your garden. Spinach grows best in cool weather and is a very frost-tolerant green that can even overwinter in much of the U.S., allowing for 3 or 4 successions of harvest. Spinach packs plenty of nutrition in its succulent leaves;it is rich in antioxidants and an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, and folate. All this and only seven calories per cup!

GENERAL SOWING

When to Sow Outside: RECOMMENDED. 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost, as soon as the soil can be worked, and when soil temperature is above 40ºF; ideally 50°‒75°F. Successive Sowing: Every 3 weeks until 4 weeks before the first fall frost. If mulched, spinach can overwinter in sub-zero temperatures. Soil temperatures above 85ºF halt germination.
When to Start Inside: Not recommended. Spinach is sensitive to transplanting.

OUTDOOR SOWING

Sowing preparation and spacing
Sow a group of 3 seeds ½" deep 6"–8" apart in soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter. If growing for baby greens, you can sow as close as 1" apart.

Growing Temperature
Spinach grows best in the cool of spring, early summer, fall, and winter in mild climates.

Water
Keep evenly moist, but not soggy; spinach is 96% water and has shallow roots.

Fertilization
Spinach likes a soil rich in organic matter with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. You will notice yellow/brown leaf edges and tips if your soil is too acidic. Fertilize lightly and regularly with a water-soluble, balanced or nitrogen-rich fertilizer if foliage is chlorotic (yellow).

Weeding
Keep beds well-weeded but cultivate shallowly, as spinach has shallow roots.

Thinning
For full-sized plants; thin to 1 plant per 6"–8" when plants are 1" tall by snipping seedling off at the soil level using scissors. Thinned out seedlings are tender and delicious. If growing for baby greens, you can sow as close as 1" apart without thinning.

Special care
Spinach germinates best in cool soil (50º–75ºF). If sowing into warmer soil, seed at a rate higher than the recommended 3 per group as germination declines in warm soils and stops around 85°F. If needed, cool the sowing area by shading it with boards elevated a few inches above the soil.

HARVESTING

Pick individual leaves from outer edges of plant as they become big enough to use or cut the whole plant 1" above the ground; new leaves will grow. When picking individual leaves, remove the leaf stem at the same time as well; this reduces vulnerability to disease, which would occur during die-back of the stem, and conserves plant energy. Harvest before the plant sends up a flower stalk (bolting). Just prior to bolting, leaves take on an “arrowhead” shape, adding small keel shapes to the base of the leaf.

STORAGE

FRESH: Spinach should be dry for storage; either rinse in cold water and dry, or wait to wash until just before preparing. Store in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. FROZEN: Wash, blanch, and drain leaves, then place in plastic freezer bags or freezer containers.

COMMON PESTS AND DISEASES

Leafminer damage appears as winding trails and light-colored blotches in leaf tissue. Remove and dispose of infested leaves. Floating row covers may help to screen out the fly that lays the eggs on the leaves. Aphids are among the most common and troublesome garden pests. They feed by sucking plant sap, which causes distorted leaves, buds, and flowers, and sometimes spread plant viruses in the process. Aphids excrete a sticky honeydew that attracts ants, and is a host for black sooty mold. Knock aphids off plants with a strong stream of water; repeat frequently as needed. There are many native predators and parasites that can control aphids; attract them by planting pollen and nectar plants. For heavy outbreaks, spray insecticidal soap, neem (an extract of the tropical tree, Azadirachta indica), or homemade oil sprays. Oil sprays work by smothering the insects and mites they come in contact with; thus, thorough coverage is important.

Garlic Oil Spray: Soak 3 oz. of finely minced fresh garlic in 2 tsp. of mineral oil for at least 24 hours. Add 1 pint of water and 1 tsp. of liquid dish soap. Stir well and strain into a glass jar for storage. Mix 1–2 tbsp. of this concentrate with 1 pint of water to make a spray. Test your mixture on a few leaves to check for possible injury caused by the oil and soap. If there is no sign of leaf damage after a day or two, it is safe to use. Spray plants thoroughly for good coverage.

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