Favorite of Popeye, despised by children everywhere, spinach seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" types of vegetables. But, I'd wager that the people who don't like spinach have never had flavorful, sweet baby spinach, harvested at the peak of flavor right from their very own garden. Because once you've had that kind of spinach, it's almost impossible to hate this nutritious, delectable green.
Where to Grow Spinach
Spinach grows best in cool weather, so it's a spring crop in most areas, and a winter crop in mild climates. It prefers full sun, but appreciates some shade, especially as the weather heats up. In general, if it gets 4 to 6 hours of sun per day, it will grow quite happily.
Spinach requires fertile, moist, well-drained soil. A traditional garden bed, raised bed, or container would all work well. If you're growing spinach in a container, make sure your pot is at least four to six inches deep. It's also a great companion plant for summer crops like tomatoes and eggplant. You can sow spinach seeds around them when they're small, and, as the summer crops mature, they will shade the spinach plants and prolong the amount of time you can harvest before the spinach bolts. By the time that happens, the tomatoes or eggplants will be large and need all the space they can get,anyway.
You can sow spinach directly into the garden around your last frost date, or start seeds indoors four weeks before your last frost date, then harden off the plants and plant them in the garden after your last spring frost date.
Sow spinach seeds four to six inches apart, one half inch deep, and water in well. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate. Once they've germinated, it's a good idea to apply two to three inches of mulch, such as leaves, grass clippings, or straw, around the beds to conserve moisture and keep weeds down.
Spinach is actually pretty easy to grow. Make sure the plants get at least an inch of water per week; don't let the soil dry out or your spinach will taste bitter. Fertilize once per month with fish emulsion to keep the plant growing strong. Keep the surrounding area free of weeds, as the compete with the spinach for water and nutrients.
Spinach Pests and Problems
Spinach doesn't really have many pest or disease issues. The biggest problem you'll deal with is bolting, and there's not a lot you can do to prevent that. You can try to prolong the season by keeping the soil moist and cool, and by providing shade from the hot afternoon sun. However, when the ambient temperature is regularly into the 80s (F), the plant will start to bolt regardless of what you do.
Snails and slugs can sometimes be a problem in very damp weather. You can try sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the plants to deter these pests, or, if they are a big problem, consider installing copper edging around the area to keep them out.
Recommended Spinach Varieties
There are several tasty spinach varieties to try in your garden:
- 'Bloomsdale Long Standing' is an heirloom variety that is fairly bolt-resistant. It has a good, mild spinach flavor and thick, crinkled, dark green leaves.
- 'Tyee' is another bolt-resistant variety. This hybrid spinach has medium-green, savoyed leaves, and is a fairly vigorous grower.
- 'Summer Perfection' is a Dutch variety that maintains good flavor even as the weather heats up. Its leaves are thick and crisp in texture.