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Success with spinach? The secret is good timing.

Success with spinach? The secret is good timing

If your spinach crop fizzled in the past, don't be discouraged from trying again. Spinach is easy to grow if you plant it at the right time so it won't go to seed before it produces a mature crop of leaves.

In mild-winter areas, late summer and early fall are excellent times to plant spinach. The warm soil helps speed germination of seeds and encourages fast root development of seedlings. As days get cooler and shorter, the plants will grow a lush crop of leaves for fall and winter harvest. (In contrast, long days and high temperatures of late spring through mid-summer prompt spinach to go to seed.)

In mild coastal areas of California, you can plant from now through February. In warmer inland areas, start planting your spinach in September and continue into January. In mild-winter areas of Oregon and Washington, you can plant spinach this month and next for a fall crop.

Choose a sunny spot in the garden, and prepare soil by working in plenty of organic matter: add about a 2-inch layer of compost, fir bark, or other organic matter, and work it into the top 6 inches of soil. Before sowing seeds or planting seedlings, mix in a nitrogen fertilizer.

If you're starting from seeds, you might want to take the extra precaution of soaking them in a bleach solution (3/4 cup household bleach and 1/4 cup cool water) for 10 minutes before sowing. Don't rinse. This helps prevent seed damage by fungus that may grow on the mucus-like coating around the seed coat.

Space plants about 3 to 6 inches apart. Once they are growing well, feed again. Water attentively, especially while the weather is still warm or if winter rains are not adequate.

You can harvest the whole plant once leaves reach their full size, but before they become tough. Cut off the plant about an inch above the soil surface, taking care not to damage the tiny immature leaves in the center. Often these will grow into another crop.

Or you can just harvest the outer leaves as they reach full size. Be sure to remove any leaves that start to yellow, since they can sap the energy of the plant any may stimulate it to bolt to seed.

Photo: Lush crop of spinach (foreground), planted in early fall, yields winter harvest. Here, plants grow close together in mounded bed

Photo: Pulled-up plant shows large outer leaves ready for harvest, young leaves in center that develop into next crop
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Date:Aug 1, 1984
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