Raising spinach in Florida takes a watchful eye
RODOLFO ROMANCartoon character Popeye depended on his spinach for extra strength, which added muscle to his forearms to defeat his nemesis Bluto.
Published: December 5, 2012
Published: December 5, 2012
But just like it benefited the sailorman, it has great benefits to regular folks, as the vegetable is rich in calcium, which promotes healthy bones. Thankfully, it can easily be enjoyed as spinach can be grown in a backyard.
Spinach season starts in the middle of October and runs until January.
In Florida, spinach isn't a major economical impact player, as California accounts for more than 80 percent of the vegetable production in the country. Arizona, Texas and New Jersey follow. There is production in northern Florida, and small, local growers also sell it in farmers markets.
In the Sunshine State, climate has been the major factor in not allowing spinach to be a major crop, said home gardening adviser John McLaughlin.
"Spinach seed germination is poor at temperatures above 77 degrees and grows best at 68 degrees — with increasing day length and higher temperatures, spinach becomes more likely to bolt," he wrote. "Flowering is initiated, at which time vegetative growth stops, the plant flowers and goes to seed."
On a commercial average scale, 60 plants are grown per yard and approximately 25 leaves are produced from seedling to harvest, added McLaughlin.
"The whole plant can be removed or a few leaves at a time over a period of two to three weeks," he wrote. "Once signs of a flowering stem are seen, the whole plant should be removed. Baby spinach, which is popular in salads, is harvested as soon as three to four weeks after planting."
To grow in a backyard, make sure the area is free of weeds. If there is an excess of weeds, then it can harbor diseases and pests. The seed should be sowed in the season of growing spinach. Fresh, free-draining soil should be used and water, but stay away from adding too much water as it could "promote damping-off of emerging seedlings.
"Keep water off the leaves to help prevent disease, especially downy mildew and white rust. Leaf-chewing insects can be a problem like caterpillars; also look for damage due to cutworms, leaf miners and aphids," McLaughlin said. "Pay attention to controlling weeds. Careful application of mulch in between spinach plants can reduce weed growth."
Every two to three weeks, apply a light application of fertilizer. The plant should be removed once the stem flowers. Once picked, cool it.
"It can be stored for 10 days on ice," McLaughlin said. "In a refrigerator keep temperature at low end (39 degrees F) and place spinach in a plastic storage bag and squeeze out as much of the air as possible before sealing. It will keep for at most four to five days. Backyard spinach should be picked right before use and carefully washed."
Be cautious of any yellowing stems or leaves with blackened edges, as that's not good spinach.
So whether gaining muscle or enjoying a salad, spinach is a vegetable that could be grown in Florida with a watchful eye.