Growing Spinach Successfully

Learn how easy growing spinach is for your edible garden.

| March/April 2016

One spring as I was showing a friend my vegetable garden, she said, “Your spinach looks wonderful. I can’t grow spinach. It bolts instantly. I gave up growing it long ago.” A month later, an online reader expressed the same sentiment, and asked me to share more on growing spinach. Spinach has the reputation of being a finicky crop, but it can be grown easily and successfully with attention to a few key details.

Perhaps our childhood memories of slimy canned spinach are what gives this veggie a bad rap and makes us reluctant to grow it in the garden. I’m guessing it has more to do with its tendency to bolt (send up a tall stalk to produce seeds) as soon as the temperatures warm up and the days get longer. I’ve had my share of experience with bolted spinach. Luckily, my chickens and pigs turn it into eggs and bacon. But since I enjoy fresh spinach in my bacon omelet, I learned how to grow it successfully in my own garden.

Spinach season

Spinach is cold-hardy, palatable, and a nutritional powerhouse, which makes it a valuable addition to the edible garden. It can survive temperatures as low as 19 degrees Fahrenheit, making it easy to grow during winter in Southern climates and possible to grow or overwinter in some Northern regions. For most gardeners, spinach can be seeded and harvested before lettuce, not to mention its leaves are sweeter and more tender when grown in colder weather. It can also continue growing longer into winter than lettuce can, allowing us to harvest food for our table over a longer time period.

The main thing to consider when growing spinach is its favored season. Spinach is a cool-weather crop. Thus, hot days and more hours of daylight increase the likelihood of bolting and bitterness, particularly if it was seeded or transplanted when the weather was still really cold. Spinach that’s planted very early in the season will bolt quicker than spinach that was planted later. Planting small amounts of seed every two weeks instead of all at once can increase overall yield. Overwintered spinach will bolt quickly in spring when the weather starts to warm up. While you can still grow it in hot weather, it’s much easier during the cool season. Plant in fall, winter and spring depending on your climate, and leave the hot summer season for the crops that love the heat.

Sun, soil and seeds

Spinach does not need full sun, and in fact, planting it in a shady corner of the garden will help keep it from bolting as quickly. Of course, it can take full sun if that’s all you have, and it does appreciate more sunlight in the spring and fall, but it isn’t necessary for growth. If your garden is shady, spinach will do just fine.

Since spinach produces a long taproot, it will appreciate deep, rich soil. It’s much more tolerant of dense soil than other greens, and in fact, it prefers soil that retains moisture. Clay soil will actually help keep spinach from bolting as quickly in hot weather. In dry or “lean” soil, mulching plants with compost will not only feed the plants, but it will keep soil cool and maintain moisture levels. Water spinach regularly, as the stress of dry soil encourages it to flower and set seed. Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged.

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