If you’ve sworn off spinach in the past, perhaps it’s time for a second look. A generation ago, spinach was usually boiled or steamed until it was a slimy, unrecognizable mass. No wonder no one liked it. Believe it or not, spinach, when properly done, has a subtle, fresh taste. Give it a light treatment, such as oven roasting or a quick sauté with bacon and garlic, and you’ve got an entirely different vegetable. Toss the fresh leaves in a salad for a mild, colorful green. Its high nutrient content only adds to its appeal. Spinach is definitely worth eating. And if it’s worth eating, it’s worth growing.
Spinach is a really easy vegetable to grow, but you’ve got to time it right. Spinach is a cool-season vegetable and only grows well in spring or fall. As soon as summer arrives, it forms tall, spindly stalks and becomes inedible. Heat and drought are two reasons spinach bolts. It also bolts, though, in response to lengthening summer days.
Spinach grows best in light loam soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. It needs moderate fertility to support its leafy growth. Dig in several inches of rotted manure or compost before planting spinach and add lime if necessary to raise the pH. In northern climates, spinach grows best in full sun. In the south, spinach tolerates partial shade, which can extend its season.
Plant spinach in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, or plant it in the fall in the south. Sow seeds half an inch deep and space them one inch apart. Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the growing season. Thin the seedlings to eight inches apart after a few weeks.
Fertilize spinach one or two times through the growing season with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, bone meal, or composted manure. (Never use fresh manure on garden crops because it burns the plants and can carry pathogens such as E.coli.)
Cultivate weeds carefully because spinach roots are shallow. Apply a mulch of untreated grass clippings or straw, which will keep weed growth down, conserve moisture, and keep the soil cool.
Harvest spinach as soon as the leaves stand four inches tall. Cut the plants above the base of the plant and allow the spinach to re-grow for multiple harvests.
Pests And Diseases
Because spinach grows and matures so quickly, it rarely has problems with diseases or pests. Spinach life miner bores into the leaves, causing tan marks to appear. Remove the infested leaves and destroy them. Aphids sometimes bother spinach and can carry mosaic virus. Treat them with a stream of water or insecticidal soap.
The disease spread by aphids causes the leaves of spinach plants to turn yellow. Control aphids and you reduce the risk of disease. You can also plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the leaves dry and rotate crops to eliminate most problems.
Many gardeners prefer smooth-leafed spinach over the traditional crinkly types because it’s easier to clean. For a bolt-resistant spinach, you can’t beat Bloomsdale or America.