Spinach Confusion!

progenitoAugust 9, 2008

I've looked this up time and time again: how do you harvest spinach and how do you know when it's ready?

The only answer I got was "when it reaches edible size", in other words, "use your intuition". I LACK this intuition, I'm afraid!

I planted some spinach from seed, thinned it and watched it grow beautifully. In fact, I took a picture of one from the top (I have 10 or so). The view demonstrated a wondrous mathematical pattern to it all, and so I was reminded of the Fibonacci sequence and felt really gosh darn special that I had this plant.

Unfortunately, within a couple weeks, it began to falter to one side, and then eventually, they all turned yellow-stemmed with these strange brown "pods" all over the stem. Are these seeds? How do I know they're ready to be used next season? When do I ought to harvest the fargin' lot of spinach plants, and do I have to do it a little at a time or do I have to chop the whole fargin' thing?


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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Ever see 'baby' spinach leaves used in salads? They are usually about 2 inches in diameter. Once grown beyond that diameter size, you can harvest at any time, up until they 'bolt'. Its up to you if you want to have a somewhat continous supply, buy cutting off the larger lower leaves first, and allow the smaller upper leaves to mature more. I have never in my life ever planted any leaf lettuce. Because I had many seeds of different types, I simply planted a few seeds into small holes. To harvest I was grabbing the mature leaves near the main stems and squeeze with my thumb and fingers. Every few days smaller leaves would get larger, so I could pick continously. Once the plants start to flower, turn yellow, or the leaf stalks get big and tougher, the plant is finished. Spinach does need plenty of iron in the soil, as well as nitrogen. Maybe you should not plant spinach if you don't know how to pick it? Basil flower heads have a similar symmetric design.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 8:48AM
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I wouldn't plant anything at all by your logic. The point is to learn along the way, otherwise it's just reading. Gosh, what a thing to say...

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 3:43PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Sometimes people will plant things without planning what to do with them at harvest time. Its always a good idea to research a bit before planning any kinds of vegetables in a garden. I had never grown brussels sprouts before and was not able to get a decent harvest until I started snapping of lower leaves and cutting off the tops. Without doing these things my crop was small. A good example would be zuccini and if I were to grow some, just out of curosity, I would probably not know what to do with an over abundance. Actually, eggplant and zuccini are ver low on my lists anyway. I do hope you read all the important info at the BEGINNING of my post. The choices of things to plant is vast. I try to only grow stuff I like to eat. Leaf lettuce was a first for me this year, and I was so impressed that I planted several more areas. I didn't know anything about when it was ready to pick, but knowing what leaf lettuce looks like thats been harvested, can usually tell you when yours is ready to pick. Frankness and being blunt may not be nice for some, but its to the point with nothing held back.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 7:22PM
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I always research before I plant... always. I thought it would be obvious when they were at "edible size" since that was the only information I was given. Big deal. Now I have a bunch of spinach seeds I'd like to collect. The cycle continues. Nothing is lost. The only real thing I got is herbs. Long may they live... in the name of Tina Chopp.

Praise be to Tina Chopp and the holy snake.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 11:10PM
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Jeepers ksrogers, I think you came off in your post in a way you didn't mean to. You've always been so helpful, taking a lot of time to write out hints and information for those of us who ask.

But some of us haven't your experience, and books (or internet research :D ) aren't always as clear for beginners as they are for those "in the know." That's one of the reasons for this forum, so that we can all share the stuff we know.

In my younger years, I couldn't understand people that didn't know how to cook. Criminy, there are a gazillion cook books out there, pick one up and learn!

A dear friend of mine, who couldn't cook a lick when I first met her cleared me up on that score. Following a recipe isn't all that easy if you don't know the difference between dice and mince, a scant or rounded teaspoon, stir, blend or puree.

However, we all can learn and only those who attempt to do that which they don't know how to do, learn.

I have never planted spinach, but was pleasantly surprised to find, the first time I planted lettuces, that I could harvest gradually, picking off mature leaves when I wanted a salad while leaving the plant to grow more. Never having had any lettuce that wasn't bought chopped off in a head before, I wouldn't have thought of harvesting it gradually had a friend not told me how.

Progenito, "when it reaches edible size" is a completely inadequate instruction. No wonder you were unsure. The dang plant is edible from the time the first sprout appears until it's old, dried up and seeding. It's not practical to harvest it when it is a seedling, and not palatable when it's dried up and tough, but it's edible nonetheless.

A rule of thumb when harvesting an edible plant for it's leaves rather than it's fruits or seeds is that once the plant sets flowers and starts producing fruits, it will put all it's energy into those seeds/fruits and stop worrying about it's leaves overmuch...which means that quality of flavor and texture will decline.

So, leafy veggies need to be harvested before they "bolt" (send up flowers). Experience will tell you when they will do this, but with most leafy veggies, a strong, straight stem will start up from the center of the plant, with leaves along it that are smaller than most, and then flower buds will appear at the end of the stem.

Experiment, play. We in this country have the luxury of learning through trial and error without starving.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 2:22AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Maybe so. The inital post was asking when to harvest. I tought it was a bit 'snide', and sounded very frustrating. But when the plants turn yellow and flop over, thats a good sign that spinach was not at a picking stage anymore, as it was quite obvious in the description. My statement about looking at baby spinach leaves in a supermarket to compore to, IS helpful. Rarely, do I go to books for any info, even though my dad had collected about 40 different ones on every subject in gardening. One herb I know has two kinds of flavors, cilantro, and coriander. The leaves have a totally different taste compare to the seeds (fruits). With leafy vegetabes, as mentioned, they can be harvested at any time, I would expect. I grow broccoli and I can even chop off all the huge leaves and eat those too, or make them into stuffed cabbage. For me, its to high in uric acid. Spiach is too high in potassium, so that too I must avoid. Worst yet, now tomatoes are not allowed. Many plants to produce more than one kind of vegetable. If you like big leaves of spinach that you plan to cook, then you pick it then. If you like fresh spinach leaves in salads, pick it when it small.

what is a 'fargin'?? To me it seems a bit off color?

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 12:55PM
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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

Hi Progenito

As soon as you see that pretty swirling pattern in your picture, your spinach has bolted and is not really edible anymore. For harvest, you want small to large leaves without any sign of a lengthening stalk. Once the stalk starts to lengthen it is getting ready to bolt. You will also see the start of small leaves in the center with the pattern in your picture. Pick it then as it will be fully bolted in a day or so. Prior to signs of bolting, you can pick some of the leaves and the plant will keep producing.

Did you plant your spinach recently? If so, it may have bolted before you saw a good bunch of leaves. July and August are really too hot for spinach and it bolts very quickly. Try again in early spring or fall.

To save the seeds, let the stalks dry in the garden. The seeds should not fall off. You can then pull up the whole stalk and pop off the seeds into a bowl. If the stalks are almost dry, you can also finish drying them inside (if rain threatens, etc.)

I hope this helps. If you'd like, I can post a picture of my spinach at the point where I started picking leaves. Try planting it again - it is totally worth it!

Good luck,

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 2:08PM
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when the plants are small i grab the largest leaves, a couple from each plant, just enough for dinner. same with lettuce, except for iceberg which i just began to pick today. i like salads with 5-6 strains. when it gets big and bitter, it becomes horse treats. this is when they pick commercially i have noticed. i have a strain in the greenhouse now that is 3' tall and has the most amazing flowers, calico of several different colors. i will post a pic when have one. j

    Bookmark   August 29, 2014 at 8:14PM
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