Once the first of October arrives, I begin looking for the one reliable sign that signals to me the beginning of spinach planting time here in north Florida. And Iím seeing it now.


The left elbows of local motorists, to be more exact.

Letís face it: it takes some pretty cool weather to prompt most drivers in Florida to turn off the A/C, open the window and rest their arm on the window frame of their SUV.  Thatís just the sort of weather spinach likes best. 

So in north Florida, we plant spinach in October and November (in central Florida it is also planted October-November and in south Florida spinach is planted October-January). It will grow through the winter, standing up to freezing temperatures better than most vegetables. In the early spring, as the days get longer and the temperatures warmer, the spinach growing season comes to an end.

A row of spinach growing in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Spinach growing in Niceville

I like to harvest the outer leaves of the plants throughout the winter, and then harvest the entire plant before it goes to seed in the spring. The last time I farmed a bit of spinach was in 2008.  The seeds I sowed the first part of October did not germinate well, so I replanted the first week of November. I began harvesting the outer leaves of the plants in late December. The leaves began growing much larger in February and the plants were ready for harvesting by about mid March.

I grow spinach by sowing seeds directly in the garden but have also had success with starter plants transplanted into the garden. I set out plants or thin the seedlings to 4 inches apart in rows just 12 inches apart. I plant in 3-row blocks, with about 30 inches or so between blocks for easy access to care for the growing plants.

You wonít need a lot of plants if you just want a bit of spinach to add to a green salad but if you want spinach for cooking, which is the way I like it, it takes quite a few plants because the leaves really cook down.

The 3 rows of spinach in my garden total slightly more than 100 plants. The cost to buy starter plants would have been about $50. The seeds cost me just a couple of dollars. The cultivar that I am growing is called Tyee.

I am using a heavy-duty 30 mil polyspun ground cover material to help keep down weeds. Unlike solid black plastic, water and nutrients pass through the woven, needle-punched, UV-resistant polypropylene fabric. I simply laid the material out over the prepared bed, used ground staples to hold it in place, and cut holes for the seeds. The fabric is marked every 12 inches, which helps keep rows aligned without the need to run a string for guidance (without something to guide me, my rows end up further out of line than a cross-eyed chorus girl).

I like to apply a water soluble fertilizer every week to 10 days. I use a blooming and rooting fertilizer (such as 9-59-8) when the seedlings are becoming established. The extra phosphorus helps promote a better root system. Once they are three or four weeks old, I switch to a fertilizer higher in nitrogen and much lower in phosphorus (such as 24-8-16) because green leafy vegetables donít need all that phosphorus Ė and neither does our Florida waters.

Fresh spinach straight from the garden is bursting with flavor. If you like spinach, donít miss out on the opportunity to grow your own this year.

Other vegetables that can be successfully planted this time of the year in north Florida include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, radishes, strawberries and turnips. In addition to most of the cool weather veggies listed, home farmers in central and south Florida can also plant celery and English peas now. In north Florida, we plant celery and English peas after the first of the year (in Florida Gardener Time, or FGT, thatís just one harvest from now).

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