HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA

How to grow spinach in Northwest Florida

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If Popeye ate fresh, homegrown spinach instead of that nutrition-challenged canned stuff, I suspect America’s favorite Sailor Man would have the strength of a nuclear submarine. For the sake of Bluto, perhaps it’s a good thing he doesn’t.

Just like Popeye, I loves me spinach!

Now is the perfect time to plant spinach in home gardens throughout the state. In north and central Florida, we plant spinach October-November. In south Florida, spinach is best planted November-December. Spinach thrives during the cool months, standing up to frosty mornings and freezing temperatures better than most vegetables. In the early spring, as the days get longer and the temperatures warmer, the spinach growing season ends.

Last winter and into the early spring, a four foot by 12 foot patch of spinach provided my household with numerous cuttings of tender, sugar-sweet greens. A total yield of 30 pounds or more. Fresh spinach straight from the garden is bursting with flavor. If you like spinach, don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow your own.

In Florida, recommended cultivars of spinach are Bloomsdale Longstanding, Melody, Olympia, Tyee and Virginia Savoy. I have great success with Tyee here in the western Panhandle.

There is nothing tricky about growing spinach. I place seeds every four inches in rows only one foot apart. If the soil is sandy or otherwise needs beefing up, I mix in some compost. Yard compost, composted cow manure, mushroom compost or something similar. A two to three inch layer of compost worked about six inches into the soil does quite nicely. If possible, I do this two to three weeks ahead of planting.

Spinach grows best when regularly fertilized and watered. I water twice a week and apply a 6-4-4 soluble fertilizer every 10 days or a granular fertilizer about every three weeks, depending on conditions. Spinach likes full sun but does quite well with just the half day it gets in the somewhat shady conditions of my front-yard garden.

Spinach may be harvested by taking the entire plant or better yet, by cropping, which is harvesting only the outer leaves of the plant as it matures. In this manner, each plant produces several harvests throughout the winter and early spring. Once the weather gets warm, the entire plant is harvested before it goes to seed.

If worms begin to dine on your growing spinach before you do (look for holes in the leaves), apply a product containing Bacillus thuringiensis as its active ingredient. It is a natural insecticide.

If more help is needed to stop hungry insects, I turn to one of the newer, low toxic vegetable garden sprays which use a natural or synthetic pyrethrin as the active ingredient. Some of these may be applied up until the day of harvest. Always read and follow label directions when using pesticides.

Recently, I asked a group of preschoolers at Hurlburt Field (USAF Special Operations) how Popeye gets his muscles.

“He works out!” shouted an enthusiastic four-year-old.

Times have changed. But the wholesome goodness that comes from fresh, homegrown spinach never will

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