GROWING VEGETABLES, BERRIES & FRUIT TREES IN NORTH FLORIDA

   
 

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A row of spinach growing in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
A row of spinach growing in my front-yard
 garden in Niceville

How to grow SPINACH in north Florida

Spinach is a wonderful addition to any front-yard garden in north Florida. Homegrown spinach has a remarkable flavor, very different than that of frozen or canned spinach from the grocery store. It is one of the most nutritious greens grown in the South and one of the most cold-tolerant.

Spinach is a cool season vegetable. In north Florida, spinach is typically planted during October and November. The plants need cool, short days to grow well. Spinach will stand up to frost but not warm weather. If you plant spinach too early in the fall, when the ground is too warm, the seed may not germinate. If the weather is too warm after the seeds germinate, the spinach is likely to bolt, or prematurely flower, leaving you without much of a harvest.

The varieties of spinach recommended for north Florida include Bloomsdale, Virginia Savory, Melody, Tyee, Olympia and Longstanding.

Spinach can have a smooth leaf, crinkled leaf (Savoy) or a semi-crinkled leaf. I prefer a smooth leaf variety, such as Tyee, because the leaves are easier to clean after they are harvested and are better suited for salads.

Spinach will do best if planted in a sunny location. It likes a moist, organic-rich soil. Seeds are typically planted Ό” to Ύ” deep. I usually plant one every inch and thin later to 4” to 5” apart by snipping the plants that I don’t want to keep with a pair of scissors. In this manner I do not disturb the soil or the roots of the plants that remain. Rows should be spaced 12 inches to 18 inches apart.

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I generally mix in a good quality, balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) in the soil before I sow the seeds and then side dress the plants once a month as they mature. A good quality fertilizer will have both fast and slow release forms of nitrogen and include a good micronutrient package. Before planting, I usually mix some organic material into the soil such as compost from the yard or composted cow manure from the garden center. I also like to include some iron in the mix. Spinach seems to really appreciate it. I typically mix in about a handful of Ironite per 10-foot row.

If I want to give the seedlings a fast start, about two weeks after they emerge, I water with some Peters 20-20-20 fertilizer.

Water often enough to keep the ground moist but not saturated. Spinach needs to be evenly moist throughout its growing season

Spinach matures in about 40 to 70 days depending on the type you are growing. It is ready to harvest when the spinach leaves are big enough to pick.

In Niceville, the biggest pest problem that I generally encounter when growing spinach is aphids. Aphids spread Mosaic disease in spinach, which causes plants to be stunted and have mottled leaves When I see them I spray my spinach plants with a solution of water and liquid dish soap – four tablespoons of Lemon Fresh Joy to a gallon of water (avoid soaps with extra grease cutting ingredients). If that does not work, I apply a natural insecticide such as Rotenone/Pyrethrin.

When the plants are young and tender they may be attacked by worms or caterpillars. If the leaves are being eaten away or you see holes in the leaves, apply a Baccillus thuringiensis (BT) product such as Dipel dust, or Thuricide, a liquid concentrate. Small holes in the leaves could be from flea beetles. Once again, try a Pyrethrin product.

Spinach is usually harvested by removing the whole plant once it reaches full size. If you choose this method, be careful to harvest the plant before the leaves become tough and before the plant bolts. Harvest early in the morning for best flavor. Cut whole plants about 1” above the soil.

Instead of harvesting the whole plant, you can harvest just the outside leaves of each plant as they grow. In this manner the plants remain growing, and producing new leaves for a good part of the winter. If you choose this method, you should remember to remove leaves that begin to yellow. If this is not done the plants tend to become less productive and may bolt.

Spinach leaves should be washed in cool water immediately after harvest. Spinach is best when eaten fresh from the garden, however, spinach leaves can be stored 10-14 days if refrigerated at near 32 degrees.
 

     
               
                   
             
                 
             
                 
             
                 
                     
 

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