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(Spinacia oleracea)

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Spinach growing.

This seems at first to be another of those no-brainer choices: Bloomsdale Long-Standing, which invariably comes on like gangbusters for us (and almost everyone who grows it).

(Spinach is definitely a cool-weather crop and will very quickly bolt in summer. There are thus numerous warm-weather spinach-like substitutes, such as New Zealand spinach--not a true spinach or even closely related--and leaf amaranth [amaranth is also grown for its seed, and different cultivars have been developed emphasizing those different qualities]. Opinions, shall we say, "vary widely" on the culinary acceptability of most or all of those substitutes; moreover, several are brassicas, so you have to take care where and when you plant such--see the discussion under radishes) Our experience with spinach substitutes is limited because we freeze spinach for cooking use and don't urgently need summer spinach salads.)

But Bloomsdale spinach is of a type usually called "crinkly-leaved", and not everyone is fond of that type, especially in fresh salads. A smooth-leaved alternative, which seems also to be early, grow quite well, and be generally liked for flavor is the relatively new sort Butterflay [sic]; we are trialling it this year.



Spinach has been shown to grow best at temperatures between 50° and 63° F. Around here, that would mean planting out (one direct-seeds spinach) right around--on average--mid-March. (Bloomsdale Long-Standing is listed as maturing in 42 days and Butterflay at 45, which would bring one from March 15--when average daily highs first reach 50°--to about the end of April, a period which, on average, daily highs normally first reach 63°.) The great risk with spinach is that it will prematurely bolt, a risk warm weather brings on, thus the early planting and harvest--spinach is fast-growing and frost-hardy; one might even venture a planting on March 1st--if it fails, one can re-plant a couple of weeks later.

If you like, you can try planting a second crop of spinach in the fall, sowing around October 1st for an anticipated harvest around mid-November: no guarantees, but it might work.

The Bed

A good garden soil is wanted; a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.9 is optimum (spinach grows very poorly at a pH below 6.0).

Planting Out

Spinach is normally direct-seeded. In a deep-dug or raised bed, space spinach plants at about 6 inches. Place the seed about ½ inch deep.


Keep spinach well watered. If you're not using drip irrigation, water in the morning, so the foliage is dry before dark. Supply enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of six inches. A uniform supply of soil moisture is required for really good-quality spinach.

Seedlings typicaly emerges in about 2 weeks, and are ready for harvest after 6 weeks from sowing. Spinach starts slowly, then accelerates during the 3 weeks or so just before harvest.

Before the freezer was commonplace, succession sowing was the norm, but today we might as well sow at the optimum time and harvest all at once. If you simply must have the occasional spinach salad, plant a little extra and harvest it on a cut-and-come-again basis--but be prepared for it to bolt in early summer (though the Bloomsdale is not called "Long-Standing" idly).


Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful.

Odds and Ends


Spinach is another member of the useful Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot) family, which also includes beets and Swiss chard.


Spinach apparently arose in Persia, where it was cultivated as far back as 2,000 years ago. In old Persian, the word for spinach was aspanakh (or ispanai), meaning roughly "green hand"; by late Latin, the word had been turned to spanachia, and in English became spinage and finally "spinach". The Arabs, who acquired knowledge of the plant from the Persians, called it "the prince of vegetables".

It was Arab traders who carried spinach into India, and then China (probably in 647 A.D.), and, with the Moorish advances, into Spain and southern Europe; some say spinach was being grown in Spain as early as the 8th century, and it surely was by about A.D. 1100. The prickly-seeded form was known in Germany by no later than the 13th century, though the smooth-seeded form was not described till 1552. (It is the smooth-seeded form that is used in modern commercial production). By the 1300s, spinach cultivation had spread to Britain, where the vegetable was popular in religious communities, particularly during Lent.

In 1533, Catherine de'Medici became queen of France; she so fancied spinach that she insisted it be served at every meal. Because spinach was then regarded as having a major iron content, wine fortified with spinach juice was used to treat French soldiers weakened by haemorrhage--to this day, dishes made with spinach are known as "Florentine" because Catherine came from Florence, Italy.

European settlers soon brought spinach to the New World. By 1806, spinach had become so popular vegetable here that it was regularly listed in American seed catalogs.

In modern America, spinach is considered the archetype of the good-tasting, healthful vegetable that small children dislike just because it is healthful--and has become inextricably bound up with the cartoon character Popeye the sailor, whose superhuman strength supposedly derives from his ingestion of spinach. (The simplistic animated-cartoon Popeye, to whom this legend was attached, is a very far cry from the much stranger and more adult figure--quite unconnected with spinach--who strode through the weird and surrealistic world of the late Elzie Segar's "Thimble Theater", the newspaper comic strip in which Popeye achieved first fame.) Several spinach-growing towns have erected statues of Popeye.


Spinach is another of those leafy greens (like spinach) whose culinary values depend in good part on their oxalic-acid content. Most people need not be concerned about that, but those with certain conditions--kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, gout--do need to be more than ordinarily careful about oxalic acid.

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