Most kids my age grew up loving Popeye and hating spinach. It usually came from a can and was slimy and bland. Certainly fresh spinach (Spinacea oleracea) from your own garden tastes much different. It can be lightly cooked or even better, eaten fresh. It’s very tasty and much better for you than lettuce. It’s a cool-season crop, so now is the time to plant it.

Spinach dies when the weather is hot. Like most greens, the texture gets tougher with hot weather. Spinach can tolerate frosts, but not hard freezes. Spinach can either be direct seeded or planted as transplants, which are often available from garden centers. Once the seedlings are established and have their first true leaves, thin them to (or plant the transplants) 4 to 6 inches apart.

Spinach requires at least eight hours of direct sun each day, but can tolerate a bit of filtered light, or as little as five to six hours of direct sun. Plant spinach in a rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers at least 12 inches in diameter. It is ideal to till several inches of organic matter into the soil and apply 1 pound of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row. In small plots use 1 teaspoon per square foot or foot of row. The ideal pH for growing spinach is 6.0-7.0.

Spinach can be grown either in beds or rows 2 to 3 feet apart. To improve seedling germination (sprouting) soak spinach seed in water for one to two days in the refrigerator. Open a shallow trench in your raised row 1/2 inch deep with the corner of a hoe or a stick. Drop the seed at a rate of 8 to 10 per foot of row to insure a good stand. Water gently and keep the soil moist until germination occurs. When the seedlings are up, reduce the frequency of watering so that the plants gradually toughen up. Transplants should be planted in well-cultivated soil in holes dug the same size as the existing pots. Water them thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food at half the labeled recommendation.

The keys to growing spinach are mild temperatures and regular moisture. Two weeks after thinning or transplanting, fertilize them with 1/2 cup of high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, etc.) for each 35 feet of row. Sprinkle half of the fertilizer down each side of the row. Lightly work it into the soil and then water. After side dressing with fertilizer, apply a layer of organic mulch (hay, straw, grass clippings, etc.) to conserve water and prevent weeds. Other critters like spinach, too, so but be on the lookout for aphids and assorted caterpillars.

Depending on the variety and the weather, spinach is generally ready to harvest within seven to 10 weeks from seeding or much less from transplants. Harvest the older, pest-free leaves one leaf at a time or cut the entire plant at the base and use all the leaves. Pick and cut often to stimulate new tender leaves. Wash and prepare or refrigerate immediately.

Recommended spinach varieties for Texas include America, Bloomsdale Longstanding, Coho, Dixie Market, Fall Green, Green Valley II, Hybrid 7, Iron Duke, Melody, Ozarka II and Samish. Others I’ve successfully grown are Catalina, Japanese Giant, Nobel Giant and Viroflay. Spinach originated in Iran.

Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” and co-author of “Heirloom Gardening in the South” and “The Rose Rustlers.” You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com) or follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science and research-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.

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