Plant Spinach in July for a Fall Harvest

spinach in containerHere’s a little known gardening fact: If not for a misplaced decimal point, Popeye the Sailor Man might have gained his incredible strength from eating kale instead of spinach.

The comic book hero helped build spinach’s reputation as a power-house vegetable because of a chemist’s simple mistake.

Instead of recording spinach with 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, he wrote 35 milligrams. With that much iron, it’s no wonder Popeye sprouted instant biceps whenever he squeezed opened a can of spinach.

Even with the decimal in the right spot, spinach is still considered one of the healthiest superfoods around. These good-for-you greens are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium and, of course, iron.

Spinach is an easy-to-grow cool-season vegetable that belongs to the Goosefoot family with beets and chard.

One of the other great things about spinach is that it grows as well in fall as it does in spring. So get ready to plant your spinach in mid-July.

Because spinach grows so quickly, harvests can begin in as little as six weeks from planting.

Savoy or semi-savoy type spinaches have dark green creased leaves and are good choices for fall planting because they tolerate temperature extremes.

Look for quick maturing varieties (40-50 days), that are slow to bolt and offer good disease resistance. Some favorites for fall planting include Tyee, Bloomsdale, Melody, Olympia and Winter Giant.

Sow seeds directly into the garden or containers from mid-to-late summer. Time the harvest by counting back six to eight weeks from the average date of the first hard frost for your area. This ensures the tender rosettes are a nice size before cold temperatures stop plants from growing.

Spinach seeds can be picky about germinating in warm soil, so it helps to refrigerate them between moist paper towels for about a week before planting. Another option is to start seeds indoors and then transplant spinach into the garden — or buy spinach transplants at the garden center.

It’s a good idea to keep the garden spot watered and mulched before planting, too. Then remove the mulch and plant seeds ½ inch deep and space or thin plants to 5 inches apart. Seeds will sprout in 5-10 days.

For the best spinach, keep the “cool” in this cool-season crop. Protect spinach from intense summer sun by planting in a partially shaded spot or use taller garden plants to shade seeds and young plants. You could also cover tender plants with shade cloth until the weather starts to cool.

Place a layer of mulch, such as dry untreated grass clippings or straw, around plants to help maintain soil moisture.

Be sure to keep spinach watered—don’t let the soil dry out or plants may bolt and flower prematurely. For a continuous spinach harvest, sow seeds every 10 days until the weather stops your gardening efforts. These later plantings may overwinter to give you an early crop in spring.

Start harvesting leaves when they’re about 1 inch tall by clipping from the outside of the plant, allowing the inner leaves to keep growing. You could also wait until leaves are 3-4 inches tall and either cut off all the leaves or pull up the plant while the greens are still young and tender.

Use fresh spinach by tossing into salads, baking into frittatas, sautéing into stir-fried meals or steaming and serving as a healthy side dish. Blanched spinach also freezes well to save for those times when you need a little extra muscle.


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