by Matt Gibson
Keeping your fridge stocked with fresh leafy greens, such as spinach, can be quite an expensive task. One easy way to take some of the stress off of your pocketbook without sacrificing a healthy diet that’s heavy on nutrient-rich leafy foliage is to grow your own greens at home. Growing spinach yourself is quick and easy, and enjoying a salad or side dish that you grew in your own yard is a fantastic way to reap the benefits of gardening that everyone should experience.
Spinach is Popeye’s favorite food, and there’s a good reason why he ate it before fighting his archenemy Bluto. The reason spinach gives your favorite cartoon sailor such a boost is that it’s chock-full of vitamins and nutrients that could help even the scrawniest sailor take on a formidable foe. Spinach contains vitamins A and C, iron, folic acid, thiamin, and carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein.
Types of Spinach: Savoy, Semi-Savoy, Flat-Leafed, and Alternatives
Savoy spinach varieties have productive yields and grow best in cooler climates. Savoy varieties produce heavily in the early summer but are prone to early bolting. In the fall, savoy spinach will have a longer production period and is more resistant to cold than other varieties. Savoy spinach leaves are deep green and heavily crinkled. They are sometimes difficult to clean because of the furrows in the leaves and the fact that the plant grows very low to the ground. Some popular savoy strains include bloomsdale and regiment.
Semi-savoy spinach is the most popular type to grow at home. This spinach plant tends to have high yields and is more resistant to diseases and early bolting. The leaves of semi-savoy varieties have less crinkles and grow higher off the ground, so they are much easier to clean than savoy spinach varieties. Popular strains of semi-savoy spinach include tyee, teton, catalina, and indian summer.
Flat- or smooth-leafed spinach plants have leaves with little to no crinkles. Flat-leafed varieties are the most common choices for processed spinach products, and these are what you are likely to find in the produce department at the local grocery store. Common strains include space and red cardinal.
Alternative Spinach Varieties
True spinach doesn’t grow very well during the summer months, but luckily, there are two spinach alternatives that taste the same and can be prepared the same way—and these types do thrive during the summer. New Zealand spinach is great raw in salads, while Malabar is better for stir frying or sauteing.
Growing Conditions for Spinach
Spinach grows nearly year-round, though some varieties grow better in the winter and some do better in the spring. You can sow the seeds of most spinach plants any time between March and September, allowing two to three months before harvest time. Winter varieties should be sown around August, while summer varieties should be sown around March. The ideal soil pH for spinach is between 6.0 and 7.0. Here’s how to take a soil sample.
Planting Spinach in Containers
Choose a container that provides at least six to eight inches in depth. Either pick a container with a large surface area for multiple spinach plants or use several smaller containers, placing one plant in each of them. Typically, gardeners space out their spinach plants with about three inches of distance between them, but if you are planning to harvest them early when the leaves are small, two inches is sufficient—or if you plan to wait for the leaves to grow to full size, allow five inches of space between each plant.
Care of Spinach Plants
Water spinach regularly, as soon as soil appears to be dry, but make sure the containers have proper drainage, as soggy soil will lead to diseases and pest issues. Spinach prefers a nutrient-rich soil, so either use a slow-releasing fertilizer or be prepared to feed often. Spinach usually enjoys a healthy amount of sunlight, but when temperatures rise above 80 degrees, tuck your spinach containers between some larger plants to provide partial shade. Overall, spinach doesn’t need any special attention to thrive. Proper fertilization, regular watering, and nutrient-rich soil is all you really need to ensure a nice harvest.
Spinach leaves are ready for harvest 40 to 45 days after sowing. Once the plant has at least five or six leaves, you can harvest the outer leaves, then allow the plant to regrow for a second and even third harvest. In the summer or spring, you can harvest up to half of the plant each time you need to pick some spinach for a salad or side dish. In the winter, don’t take more than one third of the leaves so that the plant will be able to regrow with ease. Pick your spinach from the bottom of the leaf where it connects to the stem. Another method of harvesting, if you are not planning to reharvest, is to cut down the entire plant when it has fully matured.
Common Pests and Diseases for Spinach
Spinach leaf miners, slugs, aphids, and caterpillars can all cause problems for spinach gardeners. Blight and downy mildew can also affect your plants. Growing spinach in cool weather and taking special care to keep leaves dry can help immensely in keeping your greens healthy and out of harm’s way. Regularly check the underside of leaves for leaf miners or aphids, and treat with the pesticide spinosad if the infestation gets out of control. In areas where certain pests or diseases are especially prevalent, try switching to varieties that are resistant to the particular problem in your region (Ex: indian summer and tyee varieties are resistant to downy mildew).
Want to Learn More About Growing Spinach?
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