It's hard to think of a spinach plant and not think of Popeye the Sailor who first appeared in 1929 touting the phrase, "I'm strong to the finish, 'cause I eats me spinach." -- and had the buff arms to back up his claim. He inspired kids to eat their veggies, which isn't an easy task.
When I grew my first spinach plants, I'll admit, I didn't know what I was doing. I bought a spinach envelope, looked at the little zone map on the back, threw the seeds in the soil, covered them with dirt, and hoped for the best. I maybe got some sprouts enough for one serving. Maybe. I quickly decided growing spinach was too hard, and what did that Popeye knows anyway? He's just a cartoon.
Well, I was wrong. Spinach isn't hard to grow at all; you just need to take your time and do it right. And there's no better time than now, especially with eColi rearing it's ugly head in our produce at the supermarket every other week. So, take control of what you eat and grow your own spinach plant at home.
Insides and Out of a Spinach Plant
The spinach plant is a leafy flowering plant belonging to the amaranth family and is related to beets and quinoa. The plant thrives in cool weather and provides a whole host of nutrients in every single bite. Spinach is an annual plant, which means it won't come back year after year, like a flowering bulb. The leaves are a beautiful deep green color, giving people and animals alike a clue as to the nutrients within.
There's a lot packed into three and a half ounces of raw spinach. Even though spinach is 91 percent water, the other 7 percent carries protein, omegas 3 and 6, vitamins A, C, E, and K1, folic acid, iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It also contains a little bit of fat, sugar, and carb, by way of insoluble fiber.
You might think that's impossible. How in the world can a little plant carry so many vitamins and minerals? Well, hold onto your hat because cooked spinach more than doubles the protein and fiber. Cooked spinach also boosts the potassium, magnesium, and vitamins B, A, and C.
As if the wealth of nutrients in the spinach plant weren't enough, it also has various compounds that can improve your health. There are lutein and zeaxanthin for your eyes, kaempferol for decreased risk of cancer and chronic disease, nitrates for your heart, and quercetin to reduce inflammation and ward away infection.
Popeye was onto something spectacular.
Different Ways to Eat a Spinach Plant
Spinach is a versatile plant in that you can eat it in a variety of ways. You can pick a leaf and eat it raw for a delicious crunch. You can cook with it by adding the leaves to an omelet, to soup, dips, or blend them into a smoothie for a nutritional boost. If you don't happen to like the taste of spinach, cooking with it or adding it into your morning smoothie is a smart way to sneak in all of the spinach goodness without the taste.
Not only can you eat a spinach plant raw, but you can also cook it, steam it, or dry it in the oven and make chips out of it.
Where to Grow Spinach at Home
When most people consider growing a spinach plant, they usually plant them outside in the garden or a pot on the patio. But you can plant them inside too. The process is a little bit different, but it's doable if indoor gardening is your thing. Or if you just want your spinach close at hand alongside the herbs you're growing indoors.
Whether you decide to grow your spinach plants indoors or out, remember they don't transfer well. So, wherever you plan your seeds, you'll want to grow the plants right there. Of course, you can always buy baby plants at the local nursery and avoid growing from seed altogether.
Indoor spinach plants
To grow a spinach plant indoors, you're going to need a lighting system designed for growing greens inside. You can buy fluorescent lights or grow lights, whichever you prefer.
Next, you have to decide where inside you're growing your spinach plants. Unless you only want a few spinach leaves, you probably want a dedicated area in your house to grow more than one plant. It's best to choose a spinach variety that's already adapted to growing indoors, like Tom Thumb baby spinach or Black Seeded Simpson.
Spinach is a deep rooting plant, so choose a deep pot with drainage holes at the bottom. Once you have your pots and lighting system, fill the pots with soilless potting soil or a seed starting mix and moisten. Add the seed between a 0.5 inch or 1 inch apart or just a few per pot.
Cover the pots, keeping them at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit until the start to sprout, then remove the cover and place them under your lights. Keep the lights on for about six to eight hours per day, setting a timer if you have to.
When the spinach is ready for harvest, pick leaves off starting with the outside, letting the center leaves mature. Or you can let the whole spinach plant grow to full size and harvest them. If you harvest the whole thing, you can start the whole process over for a whole new spinach crop.
Outdoor spinach plants
Spinach plants don't do well in the heat, so if you want to grow your greens outside, you have to sow the seeds right after the last snow. If it doesn't snow where you live, plant your spinach seeds as soon as you can work the soil after winter. And if you live in an area with mild winters, lucky you, you can plant your seeds in the fall.
Keep in mind; your little seeds are going to need six weeks of cool weather from the time you plant the seed until you harvest. So, you can figure out the perfect time to plant by counting backward from the time it usually starts to get warm where you live.
Pick an area for your garden in full sun to part shade and prepare your soil. To prepare your soil, the best thing to do would be to have it tested. Spinach likes an alkaline soil with a pH of 7.0 or above. If your soil is acidic, get a lime recommendation from your local nursery to help ready your plant's bed. You want to work two to four inches of compost into your rows before planting. Make sure you buy a good quality compost or make it yourself!
Plant your seeds
Once you have your spinach plant's bed all made and the soil is loosened at least a foot deep, it's time to plant your seeds. You can either plant about 12 seeds per foot of space or sprinkle your seeds over a wide area and let them settle where they like. Cover them lightly with soil and water well. Keep your seeds moist, but don't overwater. You want the soil to be moist to the touch to allow for germination, but not sopping wet or muddy.
They should start to germinate in a little under a week. When your baby seedlings start to pop their heads out of the ground and are about 2 inches high, it's time to thin them out. You want to leave the strongest looking seedlings and pull the weaker ones until they're about three to four inches apart.
Taking Care of Your Spinach Plants
You've thinned your babies out and given them room to thrive. Now it's time to care for them so that you can enjoy a delicious harvest in the coming weeks.
Feeding and watering
Once your little spinach plant starts to grow, there's not much to be done. To encourage your plants to grow faster, add blood or cottonseed meal, manure compost, or a time-released fertilizer made for fruits and vegetables.
If you do use a fertilizer, make sure you keep it away from the roots of the plant because it can burn the roots and kill your veggies.
Water your spinach with three to four light soakings per week, instead of one deep soak. Spinach tends to bolt when the weather gets hot, which makes it taste bitter. Bolting is when a shoot grows up out of the center of your plant. It's how spinach produces its seed, but you don't want that to happen until after your harvest.
Nobody likes bitter spinach. To prevent that from happening as long as possible, apply mulch around each spinach plant. That will keep them moist and cool, giving you a better harvest.
Spinach plant friends
When growing spinach outside, you not only have the elements to deal with, but you also have soil nutrition to worry about, as well as insects and other animals to contend with. Lots of farmers use companion planting to ward off unwanted pests and encourage growth.
Some of the companion plants for spinach are:
- Brussels Sprouts
Not only will these companion plants give you more variety and a bountiful harvest, but they'll also help keep pests away and invite beneficial bugs to your garden instead.
Insects and diseases
Speaking of insects, there are some outside bugs who would love nothing more than to eat your spinach plant. You have to be on the lookout for wireworms, flea beetles, spider mites, slugs, leaf miners, and aphids who feed on the leaves. You'll know you have a pest problem when you see holes in your spinach leaves.
There are different solutions, depending on what type of insect you're dealing with. For wireworms, plant full grown carrots around your plants to lure them away from your spinach. Flea beetles are so small you can't see them, but your leaves will look bleached if they're present. Use an organic insecticide to get rid of them. For slugs and snails, use traps designed specifically for them. Plant radishes to attract leaf miners away from your spinach. And to keep aphids in check, invite ladybugs into your garden using companion planting. They'll munch on your aphid population and save the day.
Pests are not the only problem you need to keep an eye out for. Diseases can also hurt your spinach plant. Downey mildew will turn your leaves yellow with white underneath. Unfortunately, there's no cure for this disease. You have to pull the infected plants. Next time you plant, make sure you're giving each spinach plant room for air to circulate so it can breathe.
Any other diseases are a result of insects, so control the insect population as discussed, and you'll likely avoid any problems.
Eat Your Vegetables
You've done all the work, you've kept the pests and disease away, and it's time to eat. You have a choice to make: harvest the whole spinach plant at once or pick off leaves as needed one layer at a time.
If you choose to pick off only what you need, start with the outermost leaves, leaving the inner leaves to further mature. They'll continue to grow and give you spinach deliciousness until the plant bolts in the heat. If you're growing your spinach inside, you can harvest the same way until your spinach plant either bolts or stops growing.
Whichever way you choose to eat your spinach, be sure that you do. They're easy enough to grow, and give you enough benefits that any effort it takes to grow is certainly worth it.