Scholars are unable to pinpoint the exact origin of spinach (Spinacia oleracea). The ancient Chinese call it the “Persian vegetable” as it crossed from Persia (modern day Iran) into the surrounding countries. The first texts to mention spinach in the Mediterranean were written in the 10th century.
By the 1400s it had made its way through Asia, where it became the mainstay of many European menus. Today, spinach is found in everything from casseroles to soups and salads.1 Spinach is an annual edible flowering plant that may grow to 12 inches high with leaves up to 6 inches wide.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Spinach in the Garden?
Growing spinach in your garden is easy when you follow a few simple strategies. The plant enjoys long days with cooler temperatures so it may be easier for those living in northern states to get larger crops. Plant spinach outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked 6 inches deep. Seeds may take between seven and 14 days to germinate.2
While you may find recommendations to space the plants 6 to 8 inches apart, this is not necessary as you’ll get a larger harvest if you plant them closer together. If you’re interested in large leaves, give the plants greater space to grow. If you are harvesting spinach leaves at a young age, spacing can be reduced to 2 inches.3
There are three true varieties of spinach with leaves varying from those with deep crinkles to smooth and flat.4 As you consider how to grow spinach, remember the plant prefers well-draining soil with a neutral pH. Add some sand to the soil to avoid a situation where the roots of your plant are growing in cool, damp soil in the spring months, which can promote the development of root rot. You’ll be harvesting spinach six weeks after sowing your seeds.
How to Grow Spinach — Fertilizer and Temperature Considerations
Spinach is a fast grower and a heavy feeder.5 Amend the soil with organic fertilizer before planting seeds and add a side dressing once during the growing season. Draw a square foot in your garden and fertilize the area with organic matter over the top 1 to 2 inches of soil.
In this way, the seeds have access to the fertilizer while germinating and the fertilizer will leach further into the soil as it rains and you water your garden. Spread a teaspoon of seeds in the square foot and cover with a light layer of soil. Tap the soil lightly so the seeds have contact.
Consider jump-starting the season by starting your seeds indoors and transplanting once the soil is workable. Once the seedlings have two true leaves, add organic mulch to add nutrients and protect the soil from drying.
As the weather warms, spinach plants bolt quickly. This happens when the crop begins seeding and the taste of the leaves become bitter. You may be able to extend your season slightly by planting in the shade of a taller plant and regularly watering.
Consider planting spinach again at the beginning of August for a fall harvest. Since the soil will be warm, keep the seedlings in the shade, watered and safe from the summer heat to enjoy a harvest by September.6
Special Considerations When Growing Spinach Indoors or in Containers
If you’re short on space, consider growing your spinach in containers. Even a relatively small 12-inch-wide, 6-inch-deep pot or window box will be sufficient.7 Use the same considerations for soil and watering as you would in the garden, except you’ll need to water more frequently since containers dry out more quickly.
Harvesting spinach in the fall may be easier if grown in containers as you can move the plants during the day to accommodate for lighting and shorter days.8 Growing spinach indoors is another option, especially through the winter months, as they don’t require a lot of sunlight.
Use mulch, even in pots, to help retain moisture. You’ll want to keep the plants away from windows radiating heat during sunlight hours and be careful to set the box back from direct contact with the window.9
Follow Your Cold Weather Crop With Malabar Spinach
If you live in warmer climates and would like to continue your spinach crop, consider Malabar spinach.10 Although not a true spinach, it is a tasty alternative. Malabar grows like a perennial vine and thrives in the summer heat in temperate climates, but may need to be grown as an annual in colder climates.
You can train it to grow on trellises, and with frequent pruning you can turn it into a decorative edible hedge. Malabar spinach may provide you with a harvest of spinach throughout the summer and fall months until the plant begins to bloom, which changes the taste of the leaves. Malabar spinach has a hint of lemon pepper flavor that takes on a characteristic spinach flavor after it’s cooked.
Harvesting and Storing Spinach
Harvesting spinach is done by cutting the leaves with a pair of scissors. The more you harvest Malabar spinach, the more this plant produces. You can harvest Malabar throughout the summer and fall, though many prefer the young leaves over the more mature ones as the flavor tends to be milder.
When harvesting traditional spinach, cut individual leaves on the outer edge of the plant with scissors, allowing younger inner leaves to continue growing for a later harvest. You can also cut down the whole plant about an inch above the crown and it may send out a new flush of leaves.11
The primary idea to storing spinach so it doesn’t get slimy is to keep it as dry as possible. Harvest when the leaves are dry and consider storing without washing until you’re ready to eat them.12 You’ll be most successful storing spinach in a breathable container that allows for air circulation. If you’ve harvested more than you think you’ll be able to use in a week, consider freezing.
By blanching you retain the color and nutrients. Bring a pot of water to a boil, with a bowl of ice water on the side. Pop the leaves into boiling water for about 30 seconds, immediately drain and then dunk in ice water to stop the cooking process. Pat the leaves dry and place them in a freezer bag. Remove all the air and freeze.13
Health Benefits of Spinach Are a Welcome Addition to Your Nutrition Plan
The health benefits of spinach include water soluble vitamins, fat soluble vitamins, minerals and a wide variety of phytonutrients. While a rich source of folate important to short-term memory, lowering cancer risk and reducing your risk of heart disease, nearly 25 percent of folate may be lost during cooking.14
One cup of cooked spinach provides over 900 percent of your daily allowance for vitamin K, over 100 percent of vitamin A and high levels of manganese, magnesium, iron and copper;15 100 grams has only 23 calories.
Although high in iron, it also contains oxalate, which reduces iron and calcium absorption from the spinach. Oxalic acid is broken down with heating. While cooking your spinach may help increase the absorption of calcium and iron, other vitamins and minerals are more bioavailable when it’s consumed raw.16
Spinach is also a rich source of nitrate. When used as a food additive, nitrate is concentrated in comparison to its natural occurring amount in plant foods. The nitrate content usually totals less than 1 milligram per 8 ounces and provides health benefits by helping to convert nitrate into nitrite and then nitric oxide.17
What Is Spinach Used For?
You can use frozen spinach in smoothies, quiches, soups, stews and omelets. Fresh spinach is excellent in salads, chicken dishes or just as an afternoon snack. If you aren’t familiar with what spinach is used for in the kitchen, try out these tempting recipes.
- Spinach-Basil Green Minestrone Soup — This thick Italian soup is cooked with young vegetables. Adding spinach boosts the levels of vitamins and minerals and enriches the soup with flavor and flavonoids.
- Two No-Fuss Real-Food Recipes Made With Spinach and Eggs — These two easy-to-make recipes use potatoes, spinach and eggs. While I’m not normally a fan of potatoes, they have some healthy attributes if you don’t eat them in excess, they are organic and you eat the peel. To increase the nutrients and taste, switch the regular potatoes for more flavorful sweet potatoes.
- Dr. Mercola’s Keto Salad — Eating a salad day after day may get a bit boring after a while. This power-packed salad recipe takes it all up a notch — nutrients, taste, texture and the energy you experience all afternoon.