Spinach is a great spring green and vegetable that goes well in salads, sauces, soups, and more. It can also be grown in fall, since it is largely frost hardy. Spinach is more nutritious than lettuce, and can be a good option for salads if you have to chose between types of leafy greens.
Spinach, in much of the North American gardening climate is a cool weather leafy green. They are best grown in early spring, or in fall for an autumn harvest. Alternatives to traditional spinach varieties, that remain tender despite going to flower include orach, lamb’s quarter’s, strawberry spinach, and potentially Malabar spinach. All of these plants have similar leaf texture and density, and are high in minerals.
In my growing region spinach has few pests, mostly slugs. It is a fairly hand’s off spring crop, simply plant, let grow, and harvest before it bolts. I frequently encounter bags of semi-bolted spinach at the Farmer’s Market, and the leaves are still perfectly good to use. So make sure to harvest and use your spinach plants, even if they do start trying to flower.
Spinach is sometimes used as part of cut-and-grow again baby green mixes. Or, if you just have a few plants, you can harvest the larger, outer leaves, and let the center of the plant continue to produce leaves until it gets too warm.
Spinach does best, for me, when directly seeded. Simply prepare an area of your garden as soon as the soil can be worked, up to three weeks before your last frost date. If amending your garden bed with compost for fertility, amend and broad-fork or till in the compost before planting.
Since spinach is a leafy green, you can plant it in freshly well-amended garden beds that are high in nitrogen without it being detrimental to the plant. If you have a planting rotation, where you heavily amend one zone in the fall and then cycle it with heavy feeding plants like pumpkins, spinach can be a good intervening crop for the short pre-winter growing weeks, and early spring still-frosty weeks.
Sow spinach seed about a quarter of an inch deep, my rule of thumb is to put seeds 3x their depth in the soil. When the seeds have sprouted, thin seedlings to 1-2″ apart. Or, wait until they have true leaves and harvest a few of the excess plants by snipping them off with scissors and using the leaves for salads. I prefer waiting, as I get some benefit from those extra seeds instead of killing off the excess seedlings at the seed-leaf stage.
If you prefer to start plants indoors, start your spinach seed in flats and transplant out under a cold frame, or row cover, up to three weeks before your last frost date. You simply want to make sure the soil is warm for the transplants, so a cold frame amended with some still active compost can work.
I usually like mulching my garden with spray-free straw or hay, but you can use other organic matter for mulch too. Food-safe cardboard without dyes, shredded mostly dye-free newspapers, or local spray-free grass clippings can all be used.
Growing Spinach til Harvest:
Harvest spinach as soon as it has 6-8 large leaves and harvest the entire plant. Or just start harvesting the outermost two or three leaves per plant until warm weather hits. If you harvest only the inner leaves, the plant will stop growing. If you’re having a dry spring, make sure to mulch your spinach plants to preserve soil moisture.
You can also succession plant your spinach with a sturdier, summer green like swiss chard. As you harvest the rows of spinach, replant to chard, and you’ll have a succession harvest of swiss chard to freeze, eat, and dehydrate.
While leafy greens can like full sun, I prefer giving my greens partial shade. This helps prevent bolting in hot weather, and prolongs the usefulness and productivity of cool-season crops like spinach. As heat increases more leaves will yellow, starting with the oldest ones. I’m not normally concerned about yellow leaves, as I harvest from the outside of the plant toward the center, so leaves don’t stay around long enough to age.
In late summer or autumn, you can start a new section of spinach among your tomato plants, or other warm season crops that keep the garden bed slightly shaded. Make sure the new seed area is well mulched, and plant some new spinach seeds to have a fall crop of spinach that is unlikely to bolt. Fall’s weeks of cool weather are perfect for spinach and other cool-loving greens to thrive, even well into October when everything else is finished.
If you live somewhere like Texas or Florida, you can grow spinach all winter by planting it in the fall. The young plants are frost tolerant to a few degrees, and can thrive all winter. If you’re in a more northern climate, like me, use row covers to hold off frost and get a few extra weeks of fall harvest in. You can technically grow spinach starting in April in zone three or four, and have fall spinach sown in late August or early September to harvest in October. As long as the period of indian summer isn’t too hot, a fall crop of spinach can be more reliable than a spring crop for long lasting fresh spinach leaves.
The most frequent pests I encounter in my spinach bed are slugs, snails, and the odd group of aphids. Slugs and snails are easy to deal with, simply hand pick them into a bucket of salt water. Once they’re dead, add the dead slugs and snails to the green compost heap. When I had ducks, we’d just feed the slugs directly to the ducks. The ducks loved it.
Aphids are slightly more challenging. I keep aphids under control by controlling ant nests near my garden. Ants farm aphids, and will carry aphids to tender plants for that purpose. So keeping ant nests away from the garden area helps keep aphid infestations from progressing. Otherwise, I use my fingers to scrape the aphids off the plant, and squish them at the same time.
Leaf miners can be a problem for spinach, as the thick fleshy leaves are quite attractive to them. I remove and discard, in the trash, any leaves with leaf miner activity. The pale lines left by the leaf miners are quite obvious against the normal dark-green leaves.
If the plants seem stressed or under attack by insects, look for larvae of various types and see if there’s any sign of powdery mildew, or downy mildew. If there’s mildew, or signs of a virus, the plants should be pulled and put in the trash. Avoid composting any garden plant that is affected with a virus. If your plants are simply slow growing and under insect attack, feed with compost tea or a similar gentle fertilizer to see if they can recover. Sometimes insects just attack weak plants, and giving them a fertilizer boost, even just fish emulsion, can help.
If you find your spinach is prone to mildew, you can look into mildew-resistant varieties. Ones like savoy spinach, or orach, are more pest resistant than some of our more common spinach types. Bloomsdale long standing may be a good variety to look into.
Spinach is a good companion or succession plant for longer growing summer plants. You can plant it where you’ll be planting pumpkins and squash, once the danger of frost is past, and get a good harvest from that ground before the summer plants take off.
You can plant spinach and beets together, and the spinach will be harvested shortly after the beets germinate. Simply make sure that you don’t pull up or weed out the beets when you’re harvesting your spinach. Interestingly, beet greens also have a spinach like flavor and texture, and can be used in many of the same ways as spinach.
Other companion plants include carrots, parsnips, and other slow growing vegetables. Anything that takes a longer time to grow, or needs summer’s heat to thrive and take off, makes a good companion plant for spinach. Even beans can work, though if you use a freshly amended garden area, there may still be too much nitrogen for a good bean harvest.
Malabar spinach is actually not a spinach, it’s other name is New Zealand spinach and it’s a frost tolerant vine-ing plant with fleshy, spinach like leaves. It loves warmth and is great for warm climates where traditional spinach has a very short season. While I haven’t grown New Zealand Spinach, I have seen pictures of it, and it’s has beautiful red stems with dark green leaves.
There are a ton of ways to use spinach leaves and spinach greens. My personal favorite way is a strawberry and spinach salad with lemon and poppyseed dressing. This salad is a long-time summer staple in my household, and is a hit at any potluck or gathering during the spring and fall.
You may be familiar with spinach in pasta sauce, or even pasta that’s been colored with dehydrated and ground up spinach leaves. You can make your own pasta, and add powdered veggies to it for color if you wish. Not only does it add some nutrition, but it makes things funner too.
Spinach is high in vitamins, iron, and calcium, and is a good source of minerals. If preparing spinach as a pot-herb, I like adding some lemon juice and butter to help with mineral absorption.
If you feel like you’d like to grow spinach, but you’ve never gardened before, it’s not hard. You can plant a few spinach seeds in a 4″ pot and have spinach growing on your kitchen counter in 2 weeks, or less. If growing a full sized plant seems intimidating, check out our growing microgreens course. You can grow microgreens even if there’s 4′ of snow outside, or it’s 105F outside, and have fresh salads all year-round, with spinach, orach, radishes, and more included!
New to growing food and vegetables?
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In this mini workshop you will learn how to fill a salad bowl every day with food you grow yourself.
- Even if you don’t have any land.
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- Even if you’ve killed house plants in the past.
- Even if you think you have a black thumb.
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