Picking Spinach – How To Harvest Spinach
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Spinach is a green leafy vegetable rich in iron and vitamin C that can be enjoyed fresh or cooked. It is a fast growing plant and in most areas you can get multiple crops in the growing season. Spinach tends to bolt and get bitter when temperatures soar, so harvest time is important to get the best leaves. Choosing when to pick spinach depends on whether you want baby leaves or full grown. Picking spinach as needed is called “cut and come again” and is a good way to harvest this highly perishable vegetable.
When to Pick Spinach
When to pick spinach is an important consideration in order to get the best tasting leaves and prevent bolting. Spinach is a cool season crop that will flower or bolt when the sun is high and temperatures are warm. Most varieties mature in 37 to 45 days and can be harvested as soon as it is a rosette with five or six leaves. Baby spinach leaves have a sweeter flavor and more tender texture.
Spinach leaves should be removed before they get yellow and within a week of full leaf formation. There are a few methods on how to harvest spinach as a complete harvest or continuous harvest.
How to Harvest Spinach
Small spinach leaves can be harvested with scissors by simply cutting the leaves at the stem. One way to do this is start harvesting the outer, older leaves first and then gradually working your way in to the center of the plant as those leaves mature. You can also just cut the whole plant off at the base. Harvesting spinach by this method will often allow it to re-sprout and give you another partial harvest. When considering how to pick spinach, decide if you will use the entire plant immediately or just need a few leaves.
Picking spinach will accelerate its decay since the leaves don’t keep well. There are ways to preserve the vegetable but it needs a proper cleaning first. Spinach should be soaked or rinsed several times to remove the dirt and any discolored or damaged leaves taken out of the harvest.
Fresh spinach can be kept in the refrigerator for ten to fourteen days. The best temperature to keep spinach is 41 to 50 F. (5-10 C.). Bundle the stems together lightly and place them in a paper towel in a plastic bag. Handle spinach leaves gently as they are prone to bruising.
After harvesting spinach, use what leaves you can as a fresh vegetable. In a bumper crop, you can steam or sauté the extra leaves and chop them. Freeze the resulting product in sealed containers or bags. Plant a fall crop in early August for harvest all the way into October or until freezing temperatures arrive.
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Knowing the Best Time for Harvesting Spinach
Many people love spinach for its flavor, tenderness, and all the healthy vitamins and minerals in this popular garden vegetable. But the key to growing great spinach is in knowing when to harvest it. Spinach is ready for harvest much sooner than many other vegetables, and the fastest growing varieties reach full-maturity in as little as 35 days after germination.
When to Harvest Your Spinach
In fact, you can harvest your spinach almost anytime during its growth cycle, up to the time the plants begin bolting and going to seed.
- Plant extra seeds in each row of spinach, and then thin out ultra-baby spinach seedlings, adding them to salads or sandwiches as you would with sprouts.
- Wait until the spinach plants form a small rosette of about five or six leaves, and then trim a few baby leaves from the outside of each plant, leaving the central area to grow and produce new leaves.
- Harvest individual leaves from the plants at any point up to the full days-to-maturity date.
- Harvest your spinach crop by cutting the entire plant at its base when the plants have grown for the full days-to-maturity indicated on the seed package.
Whenever you pick your spinach, wash the leaves carefully just before eating, as spinach leaves often hold onto dirt and grit which splashes onto the leaves during watering.
How to Harvest Spinach Leaves
When thinning out extra spinach seedlings to eat, just pull the plants up root and all. You may want to trim off the roots before using the baby leaves.
If you are cutting baby leaves from small plants, you can simply pinch them off with your fingers, or cut them with a small pair of scissors. Cut the leaf stem close to the plant.
For harvest of the entire spinach plant, use a sharp knife and cut the base of the plant at soil level while holding the leaves gently in a bunch with your other hand. You can also pull the entire plant up and then trim-off the roots with scissors or a sharp knife.
Keeping Spinach Fresh after Harvest
Eat spinach seedlings from thinning of plants the same day you pick them. They do not last long after harvest.
Handle your harvested spinach leaves carefully, because they bruise easily and turn a dark and unappetizing color when damaged.
Put your harvested spinach in a plastic bag and refrigerate it immediately after picking. Wash the leaves carefully in a bowl of water just before you use them.
How do you harvest spinach so it keeps growing?
QUESTION: How do you harvest spinach so it keeps growing? How can I keep my spinach plants producing leaves? -Paula M.
ANSWER: Harvesting spinach correctly greatly improves the chances of the spinach growing back for multiple harvests. Spinach regenerates its leaves from their growing point, which is the crown of the plant where the stems join the root system very near to the soil’s surface. When harvesting, use a pair of scissors or garden shears to cut the spinach leaves back to within 2 inches of the ground. Be careful not to cut into the growing point, otherwise you may damage the plant so that it will not regrow. The leaves should then regrow for a second harvest within four weeks after the first cutting. If it doesn’t go to seed, the plant may produce two or more cycles of regrowth, which will allow you to continue harvesting over a much longer period.
Spinach can be harvested a few leaves at a time, or all at once, depending on your needs and preferences. If you just need a few leaves, use scissors or garden shears to cut the leaves at the stem, harvesting the outer, older leaves first, then working your way in gradually towards the center of the plant as the inner leaves start to mature. If you prefer to harvest all of the leaves at the same time, you can simply cut the whole plant off at the base, taking care not to cut into the growing point, so that the plant can regrow. Either harvesting method will encourage regrowth as long as the growing point is not damaged during the harvesting.
How to Harvest Spinach
Now that you know the materials you will need and when to harvest Spinach, let’s now have a look at how to harvest Spinach:
Choose a Proper Harvesting Approach
There are points to consider before choosing an approach to harvest your spinach plant. Do you plan on making use of the entire plant or just a few leaves?
After you must have answered that, note that the best time of the day to harvest your Spinach is usually in the early morning or evening and not the hottest time of the day else the heat from the sun will weaken your freshly picked Spinach.
There are two methods to use when harvesting Spinach. First of all, to harvest just a few leaves, you can either use scissors to chop off the Spinach at the base of the stem or use your fingernails to pinch off the leaves at the stem. This method is suitable for harvesting baby spinach leaves.
Another method is for you to pull out the entire spinach plant from its stem base about 3 inches from the ground. This approach will make the plants to sprout and may give you a partial batch of a new harvest.
Another approach is to start harvesting the plant from the more significant, outer plants and then work your way to the middle, leaving the smaller ones some time to mature.
Harvest up to one-third part of the spinach leaves at a go. Ensure to leave an interval or wait a period of about 5 to 10 days just to allow the leaves to regrow.
If you notice an unusual stem thickness from the new growth, yellow-colored leaves, and flower buds sprouting out, it means the bolting process has begun.
Bolting affects the initial purpose of growing Spinach, which is producing leaves for culinary purposes. Instead, the spinach plants start to reproduce by flowering.
At this point, it is time to pull out your entire spinach plant. Prepare to plant a new batch of “succession” on a new area of your garden to promote proper soil rotation.
Preserving Harvested Spinach
It is not enough to know how to harvest Spinach without preserving. Harvesting spinach from its stem base will speed up its decay, not to forget that Spinach is a perishable plant.
Good knowledge of how to preserve them will be an added advantage, especially if you don’t want to use them right away.
- Harvest spinach as close to mealtime as possible for the best flavor.
- Spinach grows best between 60° and 65°F (15°-18°C)—commonly during spring or autumn. Plants commonly flower (bolt) and stop producing when temperatures reach the high 70°sF (21°+C). If temperatures rise into the 80°sF (26°+C), start picking outer leaves immediately this will briefly delay bolting. Very warm temperatures turn spinach bitter.
- Where temperatures are consistently greater than 80°F, grow New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia teragonoides) which looks and tastes like spinach but thrives in warm temperatures.
- In mild-winter regions, spinach will often produce through the winter. In cold-winter regions, grow spinach under a plastic tunnel or in a cold frame.
- In a cold frame, you can keep spinach from freezing by covering plants with straw or hay. Overwintered spinach will give you an early spring harvest.
- Cut spinach with garden scissors or serrated bread knife.
- Cut spinach leaf by leaf—cut the outer leaves first allowing the inner leaves to grow larger–or cut away the whole plant one inch (2.5 cm) above the soil. Either way, the plant will keep producing new leaves as long as temperatures are cool.
Spinach will keep in the refrigerator for about 10 days.
Good Greens Galore
Picking spinach is pretty simple! Just remember to pick from the outside of the plant and don’t remove all the foliage at once when using a cut and come again style harvest.
And whether you are picking a few baby greens here and there, or harvesting the mature crop all at once, make sure to leave the crown intact. If you can keep your plants producing longer, you’ll be able to enjoy even more nutritious, tasty leafy veggies.
While I love the baby leaves in my spring salads, my favorite use for my own homegrown spinach haul is to cook up a batch of homemade saag paneer. Or perhaps a savory spinach pie from our sister site, Foodal.
How about you – do you prefer baby greens or large mature ones? What’s your favorite way to cook up this culinary staple? Let us know in the comments below.
And for more information on growing leafy green vegetables in your garden, check out these guides next:
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About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.