Spinach growing in the garden is a welcome sign of spring. It is a source of Vitamin A. It is rich in iron, calcium and protein. Spinach can be grown as a spring and a fall crop. Crinkled leaved varieties tend to catch soil during rainfalls. Plant a plain leaved variety to avoid a “gritty” spinach when chewed.
When to Plant
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
The first planting can be made as soon as the soil is prepared in the spring. If the soil was prepared in the fall, seeds can be broadcast over frozen ground or snow cover in late winter and they will germinate as the soil thaws. Plant successive crops for several weeks after the initial sowing to keep the harvest going until hot weather. Seed spinach again in late summer for fall and early winter harvest. Chill seeds for summer or fall plantings in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 weeks before planting. In southern locations, immature spinach seedlings survive over winter on well-drained soils and resume growth in spring for early harvest. With mulch, borderline gardeners should be able to coax seedlings through the winter for an early spring harvest. Spinach can be grown in hotbeds, sunrooms or protected cold frames for winter salads.
Sowing Preparation and Care
Spinach is a prima donna, refusing to perform if conditions are not right. It needs plenty of moisture at the roots and lots of nutrients, so apply a general fertilizer and do not attempt to grow it in dry soil with low fertility. Add plenty of well-rotted manure or compost to the soil before sowing, and providing a little shade in summer will help as this will keep the ground moist and cool. Also consider intercropping with taller vegetables that will cast a dappled shade over the spinach during the midday heat.
Refer to the fertilizer and watering basics in the Vegetable Gardening Basics section, before beginning sowing.
Spacing & Depth
Sow seeds ½ inches deep, with 12 to 15 seeds per foot of row (i.e., seed spacing of 1 – 1.25 inches.) When the plants are one inch tall, thin to 2 to 4 inches apart (i.e. ensure space between seedlings is 2 – 4 inches by trimming away seedlings that are too close to other seedlings) . To grow larger plants sow small clumps of a few seeds (as opposed to just one seed) at least 6 inches apart. Thin to one seedling in each group once all have germinated. Closer spacing (no thinning) is satisfactory when the entire plants are to be harvested. The rows may be as close as 12 inches apart, depending upon the method used for keeping weeds down.
The plants may be harvested whenever the leaves are large enough to use (a rosette of at least five or six leaves). Late thinnings may be harvested as whole plants and eaten. Cut the plants at or just below the soil surface. Spinach is of best quality if cut while young. Two or three separate seedings of short rows can provide harvest over an extended period. Some gardeners prefer to pick the outer leaves when they are 3 inches long and allow the younger leaves to develop for later harvest. Harvest the entire remaining crop when seedstalk formation begins because leaves quickly deteriorate as flowering begins.
Cucumber mosaic virus causes a condition in spinach called blight.
Downy mildew and other fungal leaf diseases are a problem, especially in seasons that are wet, humid or both. Some resistance is available through variety selection. Raised beds create excellent air and water drainage in the spinach bed, which also helps prevent infections.
Questions & Answers
Q. What causes spinach to develop flower stalks (seedstalks) before a crop can be harvested?
A. Spinach bolts quickly to seed during the long days in late spring or summer. Warm temperatures accelerate this development. Varieties that are “long standing” or slow to bolt are best adapted for spring planting.
Q. What causes yellowing, stunting and early death of plants?
A. These conditions are caused by blight disease (cucumber mosaic virus). Grow resistant varieties.
Storage and Cooking Tips
Spinach is the gourmet plant of the group, producing delicately flavored, soft textured leaves that are particularly good when raw. Whatever size of leaves you harvest put them straight into a plastic bag to keep them fresh and succulent. Store in the fridge as soon as possible until you need them. Spinach can be successfully frozen, either cooked or raw.
Leaves can be steamed before being eaten or stir fried. If you enjoy cooking spinach, remember that the leaves collapse down to almost nothing once heated, so be generous with your sowing so that you can gather great handfuls when the time comes for the steamer or wok.
Spinach Salad with a Twist
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Ready In: 20 Minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped
Spinach, thawed and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
3 ounces Roquefort cheese
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat and sauté the onion until tender. Stir in the tomatoes and spinach, and continue cooking until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the Roquefort cheese, and allow it to melt slightly before serving.
Cranberry Chicken Salad
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Ready In: 20 Minutes
Spinach, toasted almonds, and dried cranberries are tossed with a sweet and tangy, homemade dressing creating a crowd-pleasing spinach salad.
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup almonds, blanched and slivered
1 pound spinach, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons minced onion
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook and stir almonds in butter until lightly toasted. Remove from heat, and let cool.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sugar, onion, paprika, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, and vegetable oil. Toss with spinach just before serving.
3. In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the toasted almonds and cranberries.
Spinach Chicken Florentine Casserole
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cook Time: 25 Minutes
Ready In: 50 Minutes
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are topped with bacon bits and shredded mozzarella, then baked on a bed of spinach and mushrooms with a garlicky cream sauce.
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup butter
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 (13.5 ounce) cans spinach, drained
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
2/3 cup bacon bits
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Place the chicken breast halves on a baking sheet bake 20 to 30 minutes, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Remove from heat, and set aside.
2. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantly, mix in the garlic, lemon juice, cream of mushroom soup, Italian seasoning, half-and-half, and Parmesan cheese.
4. Arrange the spinach over the bottom of a 9×9 inch baking dish. Cover the spinach with the mushrooms. Pour half the mixture from the saucepan over the mushrooms. Arrange chicken breasts in the dish, and cover with the remaining sauce mixture. Sprinkle with bacon bits, and top with mozzarella cheese.
5. Bake 20 to 25 minutes in the 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) oven, until bubbly and lightly browned.
Saving Spinach Seeds
Allow several plants to produce flower seed stalks. Cut the mature spinach plants and dry them so that the seed will come off by rubbing them in the palm of your hand. Separate seed from chaff and store in a cool, dry place.