The Story of the Winter Spinach 7


Last Saturday was our first week back at the Dieppe Market of the season. We had some cabbage, rutabaga, and pumpkins but we really had a lot of spinach!

We wanted to let our customers know how we had this spinach to sell so early in the year. This is the story:

Seeding in trays

We planted the spinach seeds in trays back in late September of 2012. We couldn’t sow them in their final destination in the caterpillar tunnels because we still had tomatoes pumping out delicious fruit at that time. Note: in this picture, I’m actually sowing peas but I don’t have that many pictures of me starting seeds.

Transplanting spinach

In mid-October, once we’d cleared all the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and melons from the caterpillar tunnels, we transplanted the spinach. In this picture, Danielle is in the back tucking in each seedling. We trialled a few different varieties of spinach: pigeon, renegade, giant winter, and bordeaux (red-stemmed spinach).

Tunnels in the winter

Throughout the winter, every time it snowed heavily, we’d go out and shovel the snow from the top and sides of the tunnels so they wouldn’t collapse. Note: these tunnels are each 136′ long (shovelling them is VERY good exercise!).

Sweet winter spinach

Spinach is very cold-hardy and actually gets sweeter in the winter. But with the low light levels in the winter, it grows super super slowly. We also made sure not to add sources of nitrogen (even compost) before planting to ensure the spinach leaves wouldn’t end up with elevated nitrate levels with the low light levels.

We had also trialled some outdoor plantings (no protection) of spinach for overwintering. These did fine while there was snow cover but after a few thaws and freezes, most of the plants died.

Inside of tunnels in the winterA glimpse inside the tunnels mid-winter.

Jody watering the spinach

In March, we started watering the spinach on a weekly basis. Spinach is sensitive to too much water but with our sandy loam, the soils in the caterpillar tunnels drain exceptionally well and we don’t have to worry much about overwatering! This is a picture of one of this season’s volunteers Jody.

Brix testing

During our Biodynamic Day at the farm, an intern from another farm brought a refractometer and tested the Brix levels of our spinach. We’re planning on buying a refractometer this year and will be testing Brix levels throughout the season. We’ll keep you up to date with the results!

Bryan harvesting the spinach

Finally, the harvest begins!


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7 thoughts on “The Story of the Winter Spinach

  • Sheila Stevenson

    well done and thanks Shannon. I loved seeing how you did it. Those lucky people at the Dieppe market – to get all that spinach. Imagine the deliciousness.

  • Harriet Allen

    We are in Zone 7. Warmer than Broadfork, but we had a cold spring and have beautiful spinach for once. But to start the spinach is sometimes so hard because of our warmth that I wanted to share a couple great methods. In winter in a cool garage or in warm weather in your basement, plant spinach seeds in flats, water lightly, cover with plastic and place in cool area. Wait and wait and wait. They will all germinate in a matter of a few weeks. It takes a long time, but we had nearly 100 percent germination in our cool garage this winter. We transplanted them as early as we could this spring and now have gobs of beautiful spinach to harvest.

    Another method that works for us–especially in late summer when it is far too warm to try to germinate the seeds outside–is to place a small amount of seed in a jar and cover with water. Leave on the kitchen counter. The next day, pour off excess water and place the jar in the frig. Wait. They will sprout and you can plant them out then. This works every every time and is a trick we learned from the Wiedigers in Kentucky. Just don’t fill the jar too full with seed or it doesn’t seem to work as well. Is that because it needs the headroom for air? I’m not sure. 1/8 of the jar or less seems to work. And be careful not too use too much seed, because we are always surprised at how much we have left over!

  • Mary McGrath

    I over-winter spinach every year in my 12′ x16′ greenhouse; I plant it about September 1 – 15, usually in the space vacated by cucumbers. I water, and sometimes get a little picking in the fall. Cover with remay, and when I uncover – when I can get to the greenhouse through the snow – sometime in March, it begins growing again, ready to pick in early April (I’m in zone 3). I’ve grown Tyee, Space, and Giant Winter this way. Great early crop of greens.

  • Len Vassallo

    Put in our first winter spinach last year under a low tunnel. Harvested approximately 75 pounds.(Bloomsdale?) We had 2 low tunnels this past winter. We have already harvested 75 pounds. (Space-Johnny’s seeds- Eliot Coleman recommended) Last Spring we didn’t start harvesting until early May. I have photos on my facebook page and my Blue Heron Farm facebook page. We also experimented with Kale (3 varieties), napoli carrots and collard greens. The carrots and kale are a big hit at the farmers market. Only small amounts to sell. The only Kale variety that is not going to seed is White Russian. The Collard greens are bolting as well.

  • Krati

    Broadforkfarm, I am a beginning farmer. I want to build greenhouse on my small farm. However, the costs are very prohibitive (more than $6000 for a 65 foot long greenhouse). With heating, cooling and ventilation in place, the cost to have a contractor build a greenhouse can be more than $10,000. I do not have the capability to do the entire construction of greenhouse myself. How do you justify the cost of greenhouse ? I m planning to start selling my vegetables next year but not sure if I can make a profit just at the beginning.