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Growing Spinach – Time to Start for a Fall and Winter Crop

I planted a package of mixed greens last fall and as usual with mixed plantings, had 3 “unknowns” that I wish I had names for.

In particular I fell in love with an arrow-shaped green with medium green leaves and wine-red veins and stems. Not only was it beautiful, it was delicious! I used it all fall in salads mixed with lettuce. Then when the weather turned so cold that most of the lettuce  (and the little bit of my regular spinach that remained) died even under the hoop tunnels, this little arrow-shaped green kept right on going. It was one of 3 “unknowns” that survived the cold in the hoop tunnels and provided greens after everything else was frozen.

I really thought this delicate tasting green was a baby chard that I had ordered from Annie’s Heirlooms. But when I searched their site for it, I couldn’t find anything like it.

The happy ending to this mystery is: I think I have identified this little jewel of a green. It’s a newer variety of spinach bred for the baby leaf market and for inclusion in various mixes! It has a sweeter flavor and is more delicate than regular spinach.

It’s name is Bordeaux Spinach. I ordered a package for fall planting and can hardly wait to get it growing!

Still harvesting on March 30, 2014 after all that cold.  I had thought it was a baby chard but it turned out to be Bordeaux spinach.

Still harvesting on March 30, 2014 after all that cold. I had thought it was a baby chard, but it turned out to be Bordeaux spinach.

Spinach Can Be Finicky

If you’ve gardened and grown spinach for any length of time, you know it can be finicky depending on the time of year grown and the weather conditions.

Spring crops usually don’t last too long because when day length reaches 14 hours in May, that triggers flowering (stalking). And of course, unseasonably hot weather adds to the problem.

A fall crop is easier to grow and when the weather turns frosty the spinach is even more delicious.

In cold weather spinach is much more delicious.  This was harvested one February.

In cold weather spinach is much more delicious. This was harvested one February.

Ideally, if you can get spinach started the first of August, you’d have an abundance to harvest for fall eating.

The more your spinach grows before you put your cold frames or hoop tunnels up, the more you’ll have to eat through the winter. (Winter growth is extremely slow if any.)

The later you get started the less harvest you’ll have before going into winter. But if you’re late don’t let that stop you from planting, because those late starts under a hoop tunnel will have you eating delicious spinach when you’re just beginning to plant your spring crops.

Succession Planting

Usually, August is way too hot for starting spinach in my garden, but this year conditions are almost perfect. Although I missed the August 1st planting date, I’ll plant tomorrow and then once a week through the first week in September. That way I’ll have spinach at all stages; some to enjoy in the fall, winter and next spring.

Backing up Succession Planting with Diversity

Each variety of spinach performs a bit differently. To give me the best shot at having all the spinach I want, I’m planting 4 varieties. Bordeaux, Space, Donkey, and a Bloomsdale variety.

Germination Temperature for Spinach

All of us who’ve grown spinach for any length of time have had spotty germination and/or have waited a month for the spinach to germinate. This is because spinach is particular about the soil temperatures it likes for germination.

If temperatures are too cold it can take spinach as long as 2 months to germinate. If it’s too hot, you might get quick germination but only less than 50% of the seed planted might come up.

According to Tom Clothier’s chart (http://tomclothier.hort.net/page11.html) the best all around soil temperatures for spinach are from 50 to 59 degrees F. He shows 91% of seed will germinate in about 12 days at 50 degrees. And 82% of seed will germinate in about 7 days at 59 degrees F.

If you can possibly germinate your spinach in that range, you’ll avoid the problems we’ve all had at one time of the other with getting our spinach seed to germinate.

Final Thoughts

To get the most out of planting for fall and winter:

  • Succession plant so you’ll have things over a longer period of time.
  • Plant different varieties to see how each will perform for you.
  • Check out Tom Clothier’s chart to see if you can provide the best soil temperature for germination.

But don’t let anything that’s not perfect stop you!

Your success rate will be greater by planting things in less than perfect conditions than it will be if you don’t plant. 😉

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6 comments to Growing Spinach – Time to Start for a Fall and Winter Crop

  • Sandra

    I can confirm that it’s Bordeaux. I like it too, but it bolted very fast for me. Thanks for the timely reminder to get out there and plant!!

  • Connie

    I have had very little success with spinach. I’ve tried direct sowing outdoors in spring, and I just planted August 1st for fall. Everything else from that planting is doing well but no spinach. I even tried starting the spinach indoors in my basement which, here in Kentucky is only as cool as 70° if I’m lucky. I was doing some research yesterday and found a site recommending soaking the seeds in the refrigerator overnight before direct sowing in the garden. I have my seeds soaking and will give this a try and report back in a few days. I think this may work for me because, even though my daytime temps are very high, my nighttime temps are are already in the low to mid 50’s.

    I’m looking forward to finding and trying the Bordeaux variety.

  • Theresa

    Welcome back Sandra! And thank you for catching up and commenting on all 4 posts put up since you’ve been on vacation.
    Thanks too for the confirmation that my mystery green was indeed Bordeaux spinach

    Regarding your spinach bolting: if you planted your spinach at a time when daylight hours are close to or right at 14 hours, that’s would account for the spinach bolting quickly. I usually plant in September which would account for mine not “bolting”.
    Again, welcome back and thanks for commenting.

    Connie,
    The facts (set forth in the post) of the conditions that spinach likes, accounts for most of the problems folks have with spinach.
    Spring crops are never as good. When day light reaches 14 hours the spinach will flower and bolt.
    August 1st plantings can easily have problems because of the high soil temperatures and the 14 hours of daylight.

    Sandra has had excellent results soaking her spinach seed (for her spring planting) although I don’t think she puts it in the refrigerator. Will be interesting to learn how the experiment goes for you.

    And just to clarify — optimum germination temperatures are soil temperatures, not air temperatures.
    Theresa

  • millard

    Your article on the finicky nature of spinach germination was very enlightening for me. I have no problems in April, but my success is very limited in August. This year I’m trying an Italian variety Lazio, which is supposed to be an all-season variety, including summer sowing. In a French seed catalogue I discovered your “discovery”, which in French is called “Reddy”. The picture in the catalogue corresponds to your description with pointed leaves and red veins. The French write that it can be eaten very young and tender, like lettuce. It is an F1 hybrid, however. Thanks to the EURO I can order seeds in any country, especially Italy and France.

  • dave

    My first attempt at spinach I wondered if I was doing something wrong as it was germinating very poorly in same conditions everything else did well in.

    I thought back to the seed I bought, a packet from a fairly well known company that rhymes with Berry Borris. That seed was undersized and slightly green tinted.

    I wrote to them asking for replacement seed and sure enough the replacement seed was larger, no trace of green, and germination rate was very good. Unfortunately none of mine every made it to bolting before the cold weather set in so it looks like I’m buying more seed again this year for successive plantings.

    Keep in mind that there are now hybrid spinach varieties that are crossed with who-knows-what, that are more heat tolerant and slower to bolt.

    Connie – I’m also in KY. Just start your plants indoors in August then transplant outside in Sept. I don’t necessarily agree with the author that it’s all that important for soil temperature to be down near 50F-something as mine germinated and started growing fine in ~ 76F indoor temperature.

    You can soak them but soaking a day really just knocks a day or two off time to germinate, provided your starter soil doesn’t dry out excessively between waterings. I find it helpful to bottom water containers things are started in so even if the soil crust dries out then the soil is still drawing moisture up from the bottom but without the fungus issues that constant top watering can bring.

  • Theresa

    Dave,
    The author (that would be me – and my name is Theresa) did not come up with that optimum germination time all by herself. Also, it was not an AIR temperature as you indicated when you said, “76F indoor temperature”. It is a SOIL temperature.

    That optimum SOIL germination temperature was from Tom Clothier’s Chart. It has nothing to do with AIR temperature. Also, if you’ll cut and paste the URL into your browser (http://tomclothier.hort.net/page11.html) and go there, you’ll see that spinach can germinate at numerous SOIL temperatures from 32º to 86º but as the chart indicates you get a higher percentage (91%) of the spinach seed germinating at the optimum SOIL temperature of 50º.

    Those figures are just the results of various studies. That doesn’t mean you won’t have good luck at other temperatures and other times.

    Theresa

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