Spinach is a favorite cool-season crop with home gardeners. Whether it is baby spinach, savoy, or semi-savoy, it grows quickly and easily from seeds in garden beds or pots. It has also firmly gained its reputation as a favorite superfood of nutritionists, dietitians, and other health professionals. It’s not overly complicated to harvest spinach, but there are a few steps you should take for the best results.
Use the following tips to make sure you pick and prune your way to one of the most nutritious green bounties from your garden.
WHAT YOU NEED
You may think harvesting spinach is easy but there’s still some things you’ll need.
- Waterproof marker
- Gardening labels
- Hand soap
- Hot water
- Gardening gloves (optional)
- Basket or bowl
- Hand shears or scissors
- Gardening stool, kneeler, or knee pads (optional)
- Paper towels
- Salad spinner
- Zip-top plastic bag
- Freezer-safe bag
TIME YOUR HARVEST RIGHT
Spinach plants typically take about six weeks to grow from seed to harvest. If you plant it in early spring, you should be ready to harvest in late spring or early summer. Spinach plants sown in late summer or early fall will be ready to harvest in late fall.
However, one of the benefits of growing spinach is you don’t have to wait for the leaves to reach maturity. When you pick leaves as soon as they reach a size worth eating, you encourage more leaf growth and prolong your harvest. Typically, you can harvest baby spinach about 20 to 30 days after sowing, but with savoy spinach, it takes about 38 to 50 days.
If you wait too long to harvest spinach it will bolt, which means it is going to seed. You’ll know you’ve missed the window if the leaves start to get smaller, a sturdy stem or stalk shoots up out of the plant and the leaves taste bitter.
If you have planted spinach at different times to prolong your harvest, use a waterproof marker to write the sowing or planting dates on gardening labels.
CLEAN YOUR HARVESTING TOOLS
You can pinch off spinach leaves with just your fingers but gardening shears or scissors work faster and will give you cleaner cuts, especially if you are harvesting the whole plant. Cleaner cuts mean less stress or damage to the leaves, stems, and crown so the plant can regenerate more easily.
However, unclean gardening tools can transfer pathogens to your spinach crop. As a result, those leaves you pick won’t last as long. Clean the tools thoroughly with hot water and dish soap before using them. Place them into a clean container to take them with you into the garden.
Also, because you have to get down low to harvest spinach, it can be challenging if you have knee or back pain. A seat such as a gardening stool and a kneeler or knee pads can provide much-needed comfort.
HARVEST SPINACH EARLY IN THE MORNING
Whether you are harvesting just a few leaves or all of them, do it before the sun is high in the sky. Overnight, vegetables retain moisture and nutrients. Rising temperatures rob them of these goodies, which means they will have a shorter shelf life after you pick them. Here are some steps you can take to keep your harvest fresh and how to do it right.
First, place a large dishcloth inside a plastic bowl or basket. If you don’t have a large dish cloth, use two so that you have one to cover the leaves once you pick them to protect them from heat and insects.
Clean your hands before harvesting spinach, or get a pair of clean gardening gloves. Use your shears or scissors to clip mature leaves at the stem, starting from the outside of the plant. This method helps younger leaves on the inside to mature and encourages more leaf growth. Place the leaves in the bowl or basket and cover them with the dishcloth. Take the leaves indoors and prepare them how you’d like!
HARVESTING ALL THE LEAVES
If you want to enjoy all those spinach leaves at once but also want the plant to grow back, it’s important to harvest it the right way. Those green leaves spring up from the crown, which is where the stems meet the root system. You want to protect the crown at all costs to enjoy at least two or three more harvests.
Grab hold of as much of the plant as you can. Use your garden shears or scissors to cut the stems about 2 inches above the ground. Avoid going lower because you will risk cutting into the crown and your spinach plant will not regrow. Follow the same steps for collecting the leaves as in step three.
LET SPINACH OVERWINTER
If you want to enjoy an early spring harvest, clip all the leaves of the plants just above the crown and let the rest of the plants remain. Cover the soil around the plants with mulch and place row covers over them around mid-November to protect them from winter frost. In early spring, remove the covers and let your spinach plants grow back to their green goodness for a springtime harvest.
If you have potted spinach, bring the pots indoors in winter. These plants also grow well indoors and you can harvest the leaves throughout the cold season.
CLEAN AND STORE SPINACH LEAVES
Once you pick spinach, you can eat it right away or store it for up to seven to 10 days in the refrigerator or up to six months in the freezer. Always wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before handling the leaves.
TO USE SPINACH RIGHT AWAY: Discard any spoiled leaves. Place the remaining leaves in a colander. Wash the leaves with filtered water that is only slightly cooler than the leaves (see Pro Tip). Use your hands to gently toss the leaves as you are washing them. Do several washes using water that is cooler than the water used in the previous wash. Place the leaves in a salad spinner and spin until dry. You can also place the spun leaves onto a paper towel to dry them completely. Use the leaves as needed.
TO STORE SPINACH: There are two schools of thought when it comes to washing spinach before storage: Do it or don’t. Advocates of the latter believe that spinach lasts longer and tastes better if it’s washed just before use. For this method, use a clean paper towel to remove any soil or insects first. There is no need to dry the leaves.
To store in the fridge, moisten (don’t soak) a clean paper towel. Wrap the paper towel around the stems of the spinach and place them in a zip-top bag or airtight container. To store in the freezer, place the cleaned, dry leaves into a freezer-safe bag and squeeze out excess air before sealing. Store it in the freezer for up to six months.
PRO TIP: Avoid using cold water to clean warm produce. It can lead to a problem called water infiltration, which allows microbes to penetrate the foods.
Spinach, The Green Machine!
As you can see, when you harvest spinach there are several options at your disposal to ensure you reap the tastiest, healthiest mouthfuls. Best of all, you can have multiple harvests each year. Try out different methods — including cleaning and storing — to see which ones work best for you.
Have you already found a few strategies for harvesting spinach that you prefer? Share them in the comments below.