How to grow spinach – an easy beginner’s guide
- By: Ashley Saunders
- April 2021
Believed to be of Persian origin, spinach (Spinacia oleracea) was introduced into Europe about 1000 AD. It’s been popular to grow spinach in the UK since the 18th century. High in nutrients, spinach is fast and easy to grow and can be eaten fairly young or left to mature into larger leaves.
You can grow spinach all year round, thanks to the many available varieties. Plus, you can even grow it in containers too. Spinach can be sown in both spring and autumn giving you a crop for five months or more.
It tastes delicious when wilted in the pan or as young fresh leaves in a salad. Eating spinach may benefit eye health, reduce oxidative stress, help prevent cancer, and reduce blood pressure levels.
However, you won’t develop massive arm muscles by eating a ton of spinach. Sadly, Popeye while entertaining isn’t based in reality! Here is how to grow spinach in your vegetable patch.
Interesting spinach facts!
China produces 85% of globally consumed spinach.
In the medieval days, artists used to extract green pigment from spinach to use as ink or paint.
Even though they look nothing alike, spinach is a relative of beetroots!
Spinach farmers of the 1930s credited the fame of Popeye the Sailorman for a 33% boost in spinach consumption which was much needed during The Great Depression.
‘Birds Eye’ was the first company to advertise frozen spinach in 1949.
During World War I, wine was reinforced with spinach juice and given to haemorrhaging French soldiers. The idea was to utilize the high volume of vitamin K in spinach to thicken their blood and improve their situation.
Ideally, you’d grow spinach in moist but well-drained soil or compost in partial shade. The plant prefers a neutral to alkaline soil (pH 7.0 or above). So, if your garden soil is sandy and acid, then you might want to mix in some lime before planting.
Spinach is also a heavy feeder. Before planting, mix fertilizer into the soil and keep adding some every few weeks to ensure the plants keep developing. When adding fertilizer, avoid the base of plants, as you’re likely to burn the roots otherwise. Water thoroughly after fertilizing.
Plenty of spinach varieties, and so you might wonder which is the best. Start using one of the varieties recommended by the RHS to ensure you successfully grow spinach.
A Hardy annual variety that has deep green crunchy leaves that are slightly blistered. Tastes mildly sweet and earthy, but juicy and tender.
A fast-growing variety that’s slow to bolt and suitable for container growing. Good performer in a range of growing conditions.
‘Perpetual Spinach’ AGM
Actually a chard plant, but similar to a true spinach plant in flavour and much easier to grow. Succulent, prolific and very hardy. Suitable for year-round cropping.
Fast-growing true spinach with good resistance to downy mildew and bolting. Harvest as baby leaves or grown on as mature plants. Germinates best in cool soil. Sow March/April or Sept/Oct for overwintering under cover.
Sow outdoors from March to August in well prepared moist fertile soil. Resistant to all modern strains of downy mildew and slow to bolt. Cut as baby leaves or grow to maturity.
Start by preparing your soil by digging down 30 cm. Spinach has deep roots and so compacted soil doesn’t provide the ideal growing conditions. As the seeds are small, you should dig the soil to a fine tilth rather than just breaking it up. Add plenty of nitrogen (blood, fish and bone) when digging the ground.
For an early summer crop, it’s best to sow directly in the ground in the third week of March. You can then follow this with a second sowing couple of weeks later.
Start by raking the soil so that it is level and fine. Next, dig a shallow trench of 1 cm. If your soil is dry, then gently water, allowing the moisture to drain away.
As fully grown spinach plants have a spread of about 30 cm, you should sow seeds thinly, typically about 2 cm apart. Space rows by 30 cm, to ensure plants have room to grow. Finally, lightly cover the seeds with soil.
Starting off indoors
It’s also possible to pre-germinate the seeds indoors. This takes a little more effort but may work well if you’ve had problems with germinating spinach seeds in the past.
In the first week of April, soak seeds in a jar of tap water at room temperature. Drain the water and place the seeds on a damp kitchen towel and cover with more kitchen towel. Let them sit at room temperature for a couple of days and keep the kitchen towel damp.
Look for signs that they have germinated. You will see a tiny sprout emerge from the seed. As soon as the seeds have germinated then either plant in the ground or pots of multi-purpose compost for transplanting outside in a couple of weeks.
If you’re looking for a quick crop, then sow spinach seeds in the second week of September as doing this extends the season considerably. Seeds can either be sown in pots or directly in your veg patch.
How to nurture spinach
Spinach plants grow outwards and fairly quickly, if you’ve sown seeds directly into the ground, then you’ll need to thin them out. Start to remove plants as they start to touch each other, ensuring they are around 30 cm between plants. You can use the thinnings in the kitchen.
As the aim is to grow spinach in plentiful quantities, you’ll need to water them often. That said, you don’t want to overwater they will be water-logged, but they do need copious amounts of water in dry weather.
If you don’t give them enough water, they will bolt and start producing very bitter leaves. You probably want to compost any plants which start to produce seed.
Unlike many vegetables which require constant weeding, as spinach grow quickly, they smother most weeds. So you’ll only need to remove weeds when the plants are young.
Harvest the leaves continually once they’re large enough to pick:
- Summer cultivars: pick from late May to the end of October
- Winter cultivars: pick from October to April
Pick the outer leaves of spinach first, and work your way inwards. As spinach grows rapidly when established, it’s best to harvest them when young because they grow back almost instantly!
How to store fresh spinach
The fresher the spinach, the better they taste! So you might want to pick leaves just before your meal! That said, you can store fresh spinach in the fridge or preserve it for months in your freezer.
After harvesting, wrap fresh spinach in paper towels and place it in a container in your refrigerator’s crisp drawer. Doing so should help your spinach stay fresh for up to ten days. Avoid putting it next to ethylene-producing fruit, such as bananas or apples, or it will decay prematurely.
If you prefer, you can freeze the spinach, allowing you to store it for several months. First, blanch the greens in boiling water for a minute or two, then cool in an ice-water bath for the same amount of time. Drain and squeeze the water out of the spinach by twisting it in your hands.
Take a handful and form the wet spinach into a ball and wrap tightly with cling film. Place them in a large freezer bag in your freezer. Defrost for a ready-to-use serving of greens.
Common pests and problems
Part of growing any vegetables is managing pests and diseases. And sadly, it’s no different when you grow spinach. Here are the most common issues to look out for as well as how to solve them.
Slugs and snails
Feeding on young seedlings, slugs and snails are easy to identify as you’ll notice slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves. Luckily, it’s easy to stop slugs and snails in their tracks by using sawdust, eggshell barriers or beer traps.
Often a problem in damp conditions, mould can occur when the plants are grown too closely together as this restricts the air-circulation. Avoid this problem by thinning the plants to 30 cm apart and harvest the leaves regularly.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause a multitude of problems. Thankfully, you can cover plants with netting or fleece, which will deter birds.
This is where plants flower and set seed prematurely. So unless you’re growing for seed, sow bolt-resistant varieties. Sow or plant at the correct time and keep the soil or compost moist.
That’s how to grow spinach!
After you’ve tried to grow spinach, it’s worth trying to grow other vegetables such as chard, cucumbers and peppers. All of these are fairly easy to grow in your veg patch and used in a variety of dishes.