As soon as the ground has thawed and dried out, it's time to start your spinach. Spinach greens are one of those true treats of spring. Spinach is able to germinate in cool soils, and within a month or so it provides lush, succulent greens for salads and cooking. The greens are also good for you. They're loaded with vitamins A and C, plus calcium and iron. All it takes is a small patch of soil, some seeds, and a little care.
Spinach varieties are grouped as either smooth leaved or crinkly leaved (also called "savoy"). 'Bloomsdale Longstanding' -- an old favorite of many gardeners, has crinkly, dark green leaves, and is slow to bolt. 'Tyee' is another popular, widely adapted savoy type. 'Olympia' is smooth leaved, while 'Melody' is heavy yielding and disease resistant.
Although spring is the time to grow spinach, it's not the only time. For southern gardeners, sowing spinach in fall for a winter or spring harvest is a great idea. A good fall spinach variety is 'Winter Bloomsdale'.
For more spinach variety information go here .
As soon as the soil can be worked, build a raised bed, removing any sticks, rocks, and debris. Make the bed 3 to 4 feet wide, 8 to 10 inches tall, and as long as you like. Incorporate a shovelful of compost for each foot of bed. Rake the top of the bed flat and smooth. Broadcast the spinach seed on top of the bed and lightly cover the seed with potting soil or compost. Even though spinach can survive a light frost, if cold weather threatens your area, cover the beds with a floating row cover to keep them warm overnight.
Once spinach seedlings germinate and true leaves have formed, thin the plants to a few inches apart. A few weeks later thin them again to 4 inches apart. At this thinning the spinach should be large enough to eat the thinnings as "baby" greens. If the plants are yellowish, water seedlings with a fish emulsion fertilizer.
Keep the beds weeded and watered well in case it doesn't rain. Mulch around the bed with hay or straw to conserve moisture and prevent weeds from getting started. If the weather heats up quickly in spring, consider shading the spinach with a shade cloth. Another technique is to grow taller vegetables, such as sweet corn and trellised peas, on the south or west side of the spinach patch to shade them from the hot sun.
Harvest individual leaves from spinach plants as soon as they are large enough to eat. Pick the outer leaves first, letting the young inner leaves develop for a later harvest. In this way you can extend the harvest window for weeks.
Use your spinach in salads dressed with balsamic vinegar; in stir-fries with ginger, garlic, and other greens; or to "green up" a lasagna or other casserole. Let your imagination run wild.
For more on growing spinach, go to Virtual Vegetable Guides at: www.willhiteseed.com/store/asp/guides.asp.
Using Floating Row Covers
Q. I was looking for a way to combat the insect that is making small holes in my eggplant leaves, and someone suggested growing the plants under floating row covers. What are they and how do I use them?
A. Floating row covers are sheets of lightweight polyester fabric that allow water, light, and air in, but can keep out insects and other pests. The fabric essentially "floats" over the plants as they grow. To use them, cover the plants and secure the edges of the fabric to the soil with stones or metal soil staples or by burying the edges in the soil.
Row covers are usually left on as long as necessary to protect the plants from particular insects. They also can be used to protect plants from frost. For flea beetles -- the insect causing holes in your eggplants -- leave the row covers on for the first six weeks or so until the plant becomes large enough that the beetles won't bother it. If a very hot spell comes along, remove the covers so the heat doesn't build up underneath. If you use row covers on crops that are insect-pollinated, such as squash, you'll need to remove the covers when the flowers appear so the bees can do their work. Row covers can be stored and reused over and over.