Focus On: Growing Fall Spinach
Can I grow Spinach?
Fall is the perfect time to successfully grow spinach, because it reacts favorably to the shorter days and cooler nights in late August and early September. From mid-August, when the seed is sown, until the seeds germinate and grow for about 2 weeks, they will need some shading and attention to moisture. Do not allow the seedlings to dry out. Shading does not have to be complicated: Use some bamboo poles to hold a cloth material, or use a TunLcover.
Spinach grows well in nearly any garden soil, especially one rich in organic matter that has good moisture-holding capacity.
Spinach will grow well into fall. To extend your harvest, give serious consideration to hard-frost protection. Basic protection can extend your harvest by at least a month.
What is the best method to grow: Direct sown from seed or from seed-started transplants?
Sowing the seed in a seed-starting tray will certainly provide you with an earlier harvest and stronger plants. Spinach grows extremely well after being transplanted; you will harvest up to 2 weeks earlier from transplants.
Spinach seed sown directly in the soil is also quite easy and productive. Because seedlings are more temperamental than transplants, more attention to soil moisture is important. They will not tolerate being dried out. When they flag (wilt), water as soon as possible; recovery is usually 100%.
In either case, practice multiple plantings; don't rely on just one round of transplants or sowing. Start new plants every 7-10 days to continually have a perfect assortment of varieties and leaf textures for every culinary usage.
How to Grow/Growing Tips
Fertilizer is best applied as a pre-plant at a rate of 3 lbs. per 100 square feet. The ideal ratio of a fertilizer would be 2-1-1 (10-5-5). Spinach enjoys near neutral pH, and will grow well if your pH is between 5.8 and 7.0. Spinach will grow in full sun, but part sun is fine. If your soil is low in organic matter, add compost or any compost-like amendments before you plant, and work into soil. Spinach will seek the organic matter that was incorporated into your soil. If organic matter is good, side dress plants about 2 weeks after planting with compost or manure for some additional nitrogen to keep the plants growing strongly.
If you plant transplants, space them 5-6'' apart in the row, and in rows 12-15'' apart. For direct sown, sow seed in a 1/4" to 1/2'' deep indentation, around 20 seeds per foot. Thin seeds as they grow to 3-4'' apart, and as you thin, enjoy the small delicate leaves in your salads.
Keep the spinach plants well watered; they are shallow-rooted, and the soil should be kept moist to the touch. Compost and other organic products work exceptionally well in retaining moisture for the spinach. Spinach is a heavy feeder. At first sign of leaves yellowing, fertilize or add more compost.
Harvesting Tips & Storage
Harvesting will begin as early as 2 weeks from transplants and 4 weeks from direct-sown seed. Always begin cutting with the older leaves, allowing for the smaller inner leaves to grow for later harvest. Harvesting can also be done by nearly removing all the foliage. Retain just a few leaves, and the plant will initiate growth again from the remaining leaves.
When cutting spinach for storage, wash the leaves in cool water and allow them to air dry. Place in an airtight container or bag, then place in refrigerator and use as needed.
There are many techniques for freezing, from a rapid hot water blanch to using a microwave. For more information on various spinach freezing techniques, contact your local extension service. Spinach holds well in the freezer for 3-4 months.
Want to know more?
Spinach is one of the best sources of the daily requirement of vitamins A, B and C, calcium, iron and amino acids. It is also very high in protein, rivaling meat. Spinach is beneficial in preventing cancer due to its anti-oxidants content and especially important in preventing macular degeneration due to the lutein and vitamin A. There is no better roughage for maintaining the digestive system. Try adding spinach leaves to fruit smoothies and protein blender drinks for increasing the vitamins and proteins. You will not taste the spinach; it is masked in the fruit flavors. Spinach has other plant relatives: Beets and chard are other healthy vegetables for fall growing.