Extremely high in nutrients like iron, vitamin A and even protein, spinach is a good choice for your garden. Planting your own spinach will save you money and provide a tender, flavorful crop every time you need it. Whether raw in a salad or steamed and chopped in casseroles and side dishes, spinach is an important part of a healthy diet. It also grows well in cooler climates and is started early in the season, getting your garden moving in the springtime.
Best Soil for Spinach
Spinach prefers a low acidic, moist soil that contains plenty of nutrients. Mix in organic matter, like compost, and loosen the soil to a depth of 12 inches. A pH level between 6.3 and 6.8 is ideal and mixing lime into the existing garden can help you to attain that.
Spinach is a vegetable that prefers a cooler bed, so find a spot in partial shade to full sun.
When to Plant Spinach
The cool days of early spring are good times for sowing spinach seeds. Start with seeds directly in the garden as soon as the soil is workable, usually 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.
For a plentiful harvest all summer long you can plant staggered rows about two weeks apart, with the last row being planted two months before the first frost of the autumn.
How to Plant Spinach
Direct sow your spinach seeds into the prepared garden when the time comes. Plant them about 1Ē in the ground and lightly cover with soil. The spacing should be about 3 inches between plants and 12 to 16 inches between rows.If youíre starting spinach in the greenhouse one to two weeks before transplanting time, space them the same as above.
Proper Care for Your Spinach
Watering evenly is important for spinach plants. They will not survive in a soggy soil, but heat and dryness will cause the plant to bolt, cutting back drastically on the leaves and the taste of your spinach. Many experts recommend around 1 inch of water per week, by rain or watering.
Be careful when thinning out the plants and weeding. Donít disturb the sensitive roots of the spinach plant. If the foliage is yellowed on the edges, you have the plants in an acidic soil and need to add lime to bring the levels back down.
Mulching with straw or light wood chips will help to retain moisture and deter the spread of weeds.
When to Harvest Spinach
Look for your spinach to be ready for harvest approximately 40 to 50 days after planting. The size of the spinach plant will be an indication of whether itís ready for your table or not, although when you pick them may depend on your tastes.
Baby spinach is a favorite and tends to be milder and sweeter than the stiffer outer leaves. Experiment with slightly different times of harvesting to find out your preferred tastes.
Harvest spinach before they flower and watch for bolting plants. They will need to be harvested sooner and more regularly.
How to Harvest Spinach
If you only need a few leaves for a salad, be sure to peel them off the outside of your spinach plant. Pests and dirt may have made the first outer layer inedible, but try to leave the inside untouched as it will grow over time and continue to produce a crop.
You can also harvest the entire head of the plant by cutting it off with a sharp knife just above the soil level. Use the leaves as soon as possible for the best flavor and only harvest the full plant if you can in fact use it.
Common Spinach Pests and Diseases
Similar to lettuce and other leafy greens, spinach is mainly bothered by earwigs, slugs and snails. These ground insects will crawl into the head and up the leaves, devouring the plant on their way.
Slug and snail traps work well, as does removing them from the leaves by hand. For earwigs, it can be best to use companion plants like strawberries or a border of marigolds to try and discourage the pest.
Put up a wire fence around the spinach plants to keep out larger critters that enjoy nibbling the spinach leaves.
Bacterial mold and mildew can infect your spinach plant. Try and water only from the base and in the early morning to avoid this problem.
Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Spinach
Spinach is fairly straightforward to grow. With the right soil preparation and in a cooler spot, your spinach plants will provide a crop all season long. If the temperature spikes, the plant will bolt and you will need to harvest right away.
Eat spinach soon after picking the leaves. They will keep in the refrigerator, but the nutrient and taste level will drop. For tender, healthy spinach, pick, wash and get them right to table.