Spinach

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea).

No photos, but there will be in later spinach posts.

I’ve never had luck with spinach. It grows. It doesn’t grow. It’s sparse. It seems to do well, if at all, at the wrong time. I have 4 packages of seeds left over from previous seasons, and I can’t distinguish one of them as a favorite. I don’t even remember planting them. Perhaps I should get new seed to start a new resolution to understand spinach, but I have decided to try a spring planting of all 4 varieties of spinach seeds. If this fails, I will buy new seed for a fall planting.

As I will discuss in a future post, I have the same problem with carrots. I plant them. I forget about them. I’m surprised if any of them do anything other than go to tops. This season I will concentrate on growing carrots and spinach and knowing the reasons for my success or failure.

Michael Pollan, in Second Nature, writes about knowing carrots. His carrots were failures until he tried to think like a carrot. In short order, as a carrot, he wanted more shoulder space and lighter soil. I know the gardener’s dilemma of not being ruthless enough (Pollan’s words) in thinning plants. I do more thinning now that I realize the thinned plants are not wasted. They are simply going into the compost pile to become something better next season, perhaps better carrots or spinach. Who knows.

For lightening his soil, which tended to clay, Pollan used builder’s sand, peat moss, and compost. Wallah, he grew beautiful carrots by thinking like a carrot.

Back to spinach. Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog says soil for spinach must be moist and fertile. OK. Also that spinach is sensitive to acidity and needs a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. In my January order from Johnny’s, I invested in a Kelway Soil Tester, so hopefully I will be better able to gauge the pH of soil in the raised beds of my vegetable garden.

Perhaps timing spinach is even more important and something to which I have not paid attention. Johnny’s catalog has a spinach planting program that makes me tired just looking at it. I have to remember that Johnny’s caters to truck farms and garden marketers. Although most of the advice in Johnny’s catalog is right on for small home gardeners like me, sometimes their advice is targeting the larger farms with acres of crops like spinach, not a few raised beds.

In The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook, Damrosch and Coleman have good advice about spinach timing. Spinach is a cool-weather crop. If your spring is long enough, your spring spinach will have a tender freshness (their words). In summer, spinach will taste harsh–if it grows at all. A fall planting will produce spinach that is sublimely sweet (their words again) and can be harvested into the winter. Spring and fall plantings. Got it. Soil temp cannot be above 85° F. to plant. That’s definitely summer.

About soil nutrients. Damrosch and Coleman fault too much nitrogen and a lack of calcium for harsh-tasting spinach, along with hot weather. More sinisterly, they report that high-nitrate fertilizers can cause accumulations of oxalic acid in plants like spinach, which is a detriment to human health. So, here is another good reason to not use commercial fertilizers high in nitrogen in the garden. Damrosch and Coleman advise using compost and lime instead. The lime is used if soil is too acidic or is low in calcium.

So, perhaps I have a spinach plan. Spring and fall plantings. Check pH and add lime as needed, although lime is best added in the fall. Oh well. Plant in spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Today is March 12 and snow still covers the garden. Working the soil may come later this spring. Hopefully, I can plant spring spinach as soon as the onion and leek plants are in the ground–by the first week in April if I’m lucky. Fall planting is in late summer with the use of row covers, first to protect from late-summer heat and later to protect from fall frosts. Remember tender freshness in spring and sublime sweetness in fall, and have faith. That’s my plan.

When the weather is too hot, spinach will bolt, or go to seed, and will be harshly inedible.

I have 4 varieties of spinach seed. All hybrid. 2 smooth leaf; 2 savoyed leaf. All recommended for spring planting; 2 for fall planting.

Corvair F1. Hybrid spinach. Smooth leaf. Spring planting. Very dark-green, uniform, oval leaves. Slow bolting. 39 days from planting to harvest.

Space F1. Hybrid spinach. Smooth leaf. Spring planting. Johnny’s says tried and true variety. Medium dark green leaves. 39 days from planting to harvest.

Tyee F1. Hybrid spinach. Standard savoy leaf. Spring and fall planting. Known for bolt resistance and vigorous growth. Dark green leaves. Particularly good for overwintering. 40 days from planting to harvest.

Carmel F1. Hybrid spinach. Savoyed leaves. Spring and fall planting. Johnny’s has replaced Carmel with Kookaburra F1. 25 days from planting to baby spinach.

It’s not long until April 1, when hopefully the first spinach seeds will be planted and a new gardening season will begin.

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