It might be the end of October, and nights might be too cold to sit outdoors for long, but if you haven't done one thing in the garden this fall, you should at least be planting spinach.
I know that Kale is the big deal green vegetable right now. Baby kale is sold in big bags at the super grocery alongside bagged lettuce and yes, baby spinach. Kale isn't just a salad bar or side-of-the-plate decoration any more. It is seasoned and baked into crispy leaves that replace potato chips in healthier households, it is chopped and dropped into soups and piled high in saute pans until it wilts to next to nothing in stir-fries.
Kale is to spinach like VCR tapes are to Blu-rays.
In spite of the trends, I still have a VCR player and I still like spinach. I particularly like to grow spinach, and alongside tulip, daffodil and crocus bulbs in my fall planting basket are a few packages of spinach seeds.
Spinach has been around a really long time. Its first known reference was around 600 AD and was believed to have been grown in hot, dry areas around the Mediterranean. From there it traveled east to China and west to Spain. By the 1400s, it was one of the most popular herbs in France and Italy. Several recipes from that era include spinach served with garlic as well as soups with beans and pasta.
Today's spinach is a cool weather crop, preferring fall and spring rather than the heat of summer. It is a fast grower, so planting in the fall gives it plenty of time to grow a bit before winter snow covers it like a blanket. In spring when the sun warms the earth a bit, the plants' crowns send up new shoots making it one of the earliest vegetables to harvest in spring along with asparagus. For those of us who can't wait until fresh, homegrown vegetables are ready each season, tender early spinach is a treat we rarely miss.
I can't just plant one type of spinach. Probably my favorite is savoy, but there also are semi-savoy and flat leaf types, which is what we see bagged at the store. Savoy is curly and wrinkly. If left to grow, spinach leaves can be quite large. They can be picked at any size, however, and although the youngest leaves are the tenderest, I like to let some plants get larger for chopping into soups and stir-fries.
Spinach is such a versatile vegetable, it can be used in just about any dish. It is even used in fruit smoothies to add nutrients including vitamins C and A, as well as iron and calcium. Baby kale is also used in smoothies, so don't be afraid to toss in a handful of greens the next time you blend up a batch of strawberries and bananas. You won't taste them and if the leaves are young and tender, you likely won't even know they're there.
Spinach seeds germinate well, even when the soil is cool. I like to plant some of my seeds indoors to give them a head start. If planted too early at the end of summer when the days are still hot, spinach will bolt, which means it will flower and set seed. Spinach that has bolted is bitter.
I grow my spinach in rows about 18 inches apart. As they grow, I thin the rows by pulling out tender leaves in between leaving plants about 12 inches apart in the rows. By the time the snow falls, I can usually get quite a few harvests of young leaves.
There's only a short time left to get your spinach planted now. By mid-November, it will be too late in our area. During average winters, the ground freezes around mid-December, although a mild winter could delay that freeze.
You even can extend the season a bit by putting row cover over the plants, or make a hoop house with flexible PVC about three-quarter or half-inch in size and cover with heavy plastic.