Try growing fall spinach and lettuce! These fast-growing greens are easy to grow and thrive in cool weather. Sometimes, spinach can bolt in the spring so I prefer fall harvests. Try out this nutritional powerhouse. Popeye had it right!
In the north, we plant by early September; in the midwest, last fall planting dates are mid-September; those in warmer climes might want to wait until the end of September when it cools down. In general, plant seeds about 2 months before your expected fall hard frost date. See the Almanac’s planting calendar for your zip code.
The great thing about both spinach and lettuce is that they can be harvested in the fall any time the leaves are large enough to use. And if you don’t mind some extra work, these two crops just might return to us in the spring.
Preparing the Beds
While spinach and lettuce prefer full sunlight (8 hours a day), spinach and lettuce will also yield a good harvest with only 4 to 6 hours of sun.
Prepare the bed as usual. Spinach needs to be enriched with plenty of compost or other organic material so add whatever soil amendments you (or your soils) prefer. I generally add kelp meal, organic alfalfa meal, greensand and Azomite powder. Sprinkle it around the top. Use a broad fork or pitchfork to gently loosen the soil then rake it flat.
Check to make sure that your varieties are ones that have good cold hardiness for fall harvests and can make it through the winter. One good choice is “Space” spinach which has dark green, round, spoon shaped, almost smooth leaves that are still meaty enough for real flavor.
Then broadcast the seeds over the bed; this means planting them everywhere instead of just in rows. Cover with a nice dusting of old compost or manure. Water well.
Thinning the Seedlings
As with most seeds, you will need to keep the top of the bed wet until the seedlings appear. Check it at least twice a day perhaps more often if it is hot and dry. If soil is not kept consistently moist, leaves will become bitter.
After several days, the plants will appear. When the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, thin first to 2 inches apart, then 4, and finally 6 inches, enjoying your tender thinnings in salads as you go. Basically, you thin and thin again as each seedling runs out of room to grow.
A layer of mulch around plants will conserve soil moisture and keep weeds down as well. Give your plants a dose of soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion when they are about a month old.
Once they reach the size of a soup spoon, you can harvest them and bring them inside to eat. Pick only some of the outer leaves and your plants will continue to keep producing.