Spinach can be grown to produce a crop all year round, making it a useful vegetable to grow when other greens might be in short supply. Prepared and cooked properly, it is a tasty, versatile crop that can even be used in salads. Some cultivars can be overwintered for an early spring harvest. Winter cultivars need a sunny position, but summer types benefit from a little shade.
Before sowing, ensure good growth by digging in up to two bucketfuls per square metre (square yard) of well-rotted organic matter such as garden compost, and raking in 150g per square metre (5oz per square yard) of general fertiliser. Sow seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart, or in a large container. Sow seeds of summer cultivars every few weeks from February (under fleece or cloches), or outdoors from mid-March to the end of May. Sow winter cultivars in August and again in September.
Thin seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart when large enough to handle. A few weeks later harvest every alternative plant for use in the kitchen.
Keep well watered during dry periods in summer.
Winter cultivars will need protection from October onwards – unless you live in a mild area. Cover with cloches or protect the crown with straw or similar material and cover with fleece.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Bolting: Plants flower and set seed prematurely.
Remedy: Unless growing for seed sow bolt-resistant varieties. Sow or plant at the correct time and keep the soil or compost moist.
Spinach downy mildew: Spinach downy mildew attacks only spinach and is worst in mild, humid weather. Well grown plants in gardens are not usually badly affected except in wet weather. The felty mildew makes the leaves unappetising.
Remedy: You can help to prevent this disease by making sure there is plenty of space around plants to improve air circulation, watering the soil at the base of the plants, and by choosing mildew resistant varieties.
Summer cultivars: pick between late May and the end of October.
Winter cultivars: pick between October and April.
Harvest the leaves continually once they’re large enough to pick. To prevent the leaves tasting bitter make sure the soil is rich and contains plenty of organic matter.
Plant with: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, strawberries