Monday, March 30, 2015

Experimenting with Spinach


Spinach is one of those vegetables that I just couldn't seem to get right last year - I described all of my spinach troubles in my End of Year Review post.

So here we are, New Year, fresh start.  I don't expect to solve all of my issues in one go this year, although that certainly would be nice.  I'm hopeful, however, that I can at least resolve some of them.  My goal right now is not so much to grow a large quantity of spinach, but rather to nail down the methods and/or a few varieties that do well (or at least better) for me.

Spinach Selections for 2015

I'm growing five varieties this year.  Three of these I also grew last year but none of them performed very well.  Since I had issues with every variety, I'm inclined to think that the more likely reason for their less than stellar performance was something that I did rather than the varieties themselves.  At this stage, I didn't want to eliminate any of them, just in case.

New to me varieties are identified with an asterisk (*).


Galilee (45 days, The Cottage Gardener, 2014)

I barely harvested a handful of small leaves from this variety as it kept bolting on me, so I unfortunately have no good harvest photos.  To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here is a seedling that is already bolting before it was even transplanted outside:

Bolting Galilee Spinach Seedling
 
I purchased Galilee last year as it was supposed to be heat tolerant, according to the Cottage Gardener seed catalogue, so I was thinking it would make a good variety to try over the summer.  Of course, summertime is not only when our days are the hottest, but also the longest, which is the most likely reason why this variety kept bolting on me - it all comes down to latitude.  Considering this seed house is located in Ontario, you would think that they would only offer seed that performs at least reasonably well here.

I did enjoy the flavour of this one enough to give it another try this year.  My plan is to see if I can get an early spring crop out of it, before the days get loo long.  I'm not overly confident that I'll be able to accomplish this, but I figure it's worth a try.


Viroflay (50 days, Pinetree, 2015)

Small harvest of Viroflay spinach
pictured with some radishes
 
This was my favourite variety from last year.  Even though spinach seeds are supposed to be good for at least a couple of years, I had such an issue with germination that I decided to purchase new seeds from a different source this year, just to see if this made a difference (spoiler alert:  it did, as you will read about below!).


Tyee (F1) (52 days, William Dam Seeds, 2014)

August Harvest of Tyee Spinach
 
The Tyee spinach was also good, but just didn't grow very well in the garden.  The fact that I was growing it in the middle of summer (albeit a very cool summer, for us) probably didn't help matters.


*Space (F1) (41 days, Pinetree, 2015)

Space Spinach
Photo source:  Pinetree
 
Space is a variety that I first saw on Daphne’s blog & it does exceptionally well for her (and others) so it was at the top of my list of new varieties to try.


*Renegade (F1) (43 days, High Mowing Organic Seeds, 2015)

Renegade Spinach
Photo Source:  High Mowing Organic Seeds
 
Renegade was an impulse purchase as I had not heard of it before.  It's a smooth leaf variety (which I generally prefer) that is supposed to be bolt resistant, always a good thing when it comes to spinach.


Seed Starting

I decided to do a bit of experimenting with spinach this year on two fronts.  Firstly, I am trying a couple of different pre-germination methods.  One issue that I had last year was extremely slow and sporadic germination, specifically with Viroflay.  When I did a bit of research, I discovered that this was not an uncommon issue.

I have also seen many gardeners indicate that they have better results with spinach when they sow the seeds directly vs. using transplants (or vice versa).  So I will be trying both of these methods to see which one I prefer.  In the garden, have allocated 10 squares to spinach, which works out perfectly for my little experiment.  Since I am growing 5 varieties, I will give each variety 2 squares.  One square will be for transplants and the other will be direct sown in April, using pre-germinated seeds.

The first step I take when pre-germinating spinach is a 24 hour soak.  After this, the seeds are placed in damp paper towel & the whole lot goes into a sealed baggie.  I'm planning on using a 6" spacing for the spinach, so I need 4 seedlings per square.  I decided to pre-germinate 4 seeds per method (for a total of 8 seeds per variety).

As a side note, up until now I have generally used one zip lock baggie per variety when I am pre-germinating seeds.  Dealing with all of those baggies when checking to see if the seeds have germinated is a bit tedious, especially when you have lots of varieties such as with peppers & tomatoes.

I decided to simplify things by colour coding each paper towel seed "packet" and placing them all in one bag.  I use a different coloured paperclip for each variety and then note down the colour/variety on a piece of paper.  Not only was it much simpler to check for germination but I was also less likely to mix up the seeds (as I would sometimes forget to put a packet back into it's bag before taking out the next one, especially if I had to sow some seeds before I moved on to the next variety).

In the case of my spinach experiment, I used 2 baggies, one for each germination method, and I made sure to use the same colour of paperclip for the same variety in both bags.

Spinach seed baggies, all ready to go
 
Spinach seeds need cooler temperatures to germinate.  The question is, will colder temps help them germinate more quickly?  I've read numerous accounts of people placing their seeds in the refrigerator for a few days to achieve and/or speed up germination.  Others simply leave their seeds at room temperature, in a relatively coolish room.  I decided to try both of these methods.

One baggie went into the cold cellar for 2 days then it was placed in the basement where the ambient temperature is 18-19C (64-66F).  My cold cellar is nice and cold at 5C/41F, but more convenient for me than the fridge as it's right near my seeding area.  The other baggie was simply left at room temperature in the basement from the start.

I started the seeds less than 2 weeks ago and the results are already in.

Simply leaving them in the cool basement was the most successful method for germination, by far.  All of the varieties from this baggie started to germinate first (as early as one day later!) and, after 7 days, I had 100% germination from all varieties.

The cold cellar group, in comparison, had no germination on any variety until day 3 and by the 7th day, there were still 3 seeds left for Renegade and all 4 had not yet germinated for Space.

Spinach seedlings - 9 days
 
With all of the varieties and checking, etc., I ended up messing up a bit.  Even when I had 4 germinated seeds for a particular variety (which is all I needed), I kept the experiment going until the 7th day, just to see how many more of the seeds would germinate & then simply threw out the extra germinated seeds.  For some reason, I thought I had already sown all of the seeds for Space (and ended up throwing out the extras), when in fact I had only sown 3 of the 4.  I will have to make up for that when I eventually do the outdoor sowing.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Viroflay variety that I had so much trouble with last year was one of the quickest germinators this time around.  3 of the 4 seeds in the "room temp. only" group germinated in only 3 days and even the cold cellar group had fully germinated after 5 days.  Compare that to my results last year when I tried 3 different methods of germinating the Viroflay seeds that I purchased from Baker Creek (near the bottom of this "Spinach Update" post) - quite the dramatic difference, wouldn't you say?

So in the end, it seems that my struggle last year with germination was not because of something I did or didn't do.  Sometimes, the blame can be laid squarely on the seeds.

Till next time...

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

22 comments:

  1. Whew! You sure go to a lot of work to grow your spinach. I have planted Bloomsdale and one or two other kinds. I don't soak or anything, just plant them and hope for the best! LOL You are a serious gardener! I am a lazy one! Hope they do well for you. Nancy

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    1. Thanks Nancy. For me, it's really more play than work...especially at this time of year when I'm just raring to go!

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  2. I grew the Space last year and just loved it. It performed exceptionally well and provided a long season of cuttings. I agree----seed is key and even the best companies sometimes have an "off" batch.
    Hope all your varieties do well this year!

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    1. Thanks Sue - it sure sounds like Space is a winner...hopefully it does just as well in my garden as it has in yours!

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  3. That's the great thing about gardening, if something doesn't do so well for you, you can always give it another go. Hope you get better results from your spinach this year, it's something I've never grown even though I do like it.

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    1. That is so true, Jo...and life would be rather boring if everything always worked out as it should, especially in the garden.

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  4. Good luck with the experiments. I'm certainly one that likes to direct seed her spinach. I've shown the root system a couple of times on my blog. They have nice tap roots when they are direct seeded and cramping them in pots has got to stress them which means earlier bolting. I tend to chit the seeds too. Spinach can be finicky. Though sometimes I just don't bother and just plant them out. I think they come up better if I take the time to soak them indoors for a day or a day and a half. Also one reason spinach bolts is the length of the day (well really night, but since we have 24 hours one goes with the other). So don't put them under lights that are on a lot. 13 hours is probably best. Supposedly the oldest strains would bolt with 14 hours of light. The modern ones are supposed to handle much more.

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    1. That's interesting about the root system - I'm really looking forward to seeing how my transplants do compared to the direct seeded ones. My gut feeling is that I will come to the same conclusion that you did. I've never had much luck with direct seeding, but chitting the seeds will definitely help with that.

      Good point about the lights - last year I did keep them under my regular lights which stay on for 16 hours - that's probably why the Galilee spinach bolted before even going outside. This time, I'm placing the packs on the same shelf as the onions, which only get 12 hours. Now I'm just hoping that I'll be able to get them into the ground before the days get too long.

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  5. Very interesting experiment, cool but not cold looks like the way to go with spinach. It will be interesting to see how the direct sown seeds do in comparison. Hope you have a great spinach harvest!

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    1. Thanks Michelle - it definitely would be very nice to have more than a handful of leaves to harvest, especially for those cooked dishes where the spinach shrinks down to nothing!

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  6. I'm trying spinach for the first time this year. I started seeds for the Space Spinach F1 Hybrid from Pinetree at the beginning of February and transplanted them outside a few weeks ago. The plants seem to be doing well. My zone is weird - we have cold winters (sometimes) and then the heat of summer comes on hard and fast, so I like to get an extra head-start to beat the heat. I liked that this variety was resistant to bolting and I think better suited for the heat. Good luck with your experiment!

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    1. Thanks Jennifer - it will be interesting how our impressions on this variety compare, especially as we are both new to this variety & purchased have the same seeds from the same source. I hope that it is as bolt resistant as it claims & you get a bumper harvest!

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  7. What a great experiment! I will be looking forward to the results as the season goes on. I found out that starting spinach indoors under lights will cause it to bolt sooner if the lights are on my usual 14-16 hours. So now once it comes up inside I get it out to the greenhouse which has no artificial lighting and they do much better.

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    1. I don't really have a good spot with natural light for them indoors - oh, how I wish I had a greenhouse! Maybe one of these days...

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  8. Interesting experiment. I just direct sow, and it is what it is. Usually not great, but occasionally I get some spinach. The weather here is so fickle, I'm sure my failures are not due to just day length. Will be interesting to see how your plants do.

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    1. Maybe after a few more years, I'll be a little more laid back in the garden...but probably not - I do love a good experiment!

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  9. I can't wait to find out which works best for you.

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    1. Thanks Kate! Gardens (and gardeners!) are so different that I think it's always good to try different ways of doing things, just to see which is best for you.

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  10. I have always been successful with direct seeding, so never had to go to the trouble of starting inside then transplanting. But I won't direct seed until at least May - I can't be bothered covering up during our cold nights so wait until we have good 24 hour temps. I really liked the William Dam Tyee, but trying a couple of others this year. Good luck, I really hope the direct seeding works for you as it is SO much easier!

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    1. It would be nice to simply direct seed, especially at this time of year when space under the grow lights is getting kind of cramped. I'll probably be doing the direct seeding (and also transplanting the existing seedlings) in the next couple of weeks. According to my notes, mid-April is the time to do this but I have never grown or seeded anything outside this early, so we will see how it goes.

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  11. Hope you get lots of spinach! I do badly with it so focus more on chard, that does better on my plot.

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    1. I hope that it does well, but we shall see. Like you said, if it does badly, at least there is chard which does make a great substitute (I can't believe I didn't realize this until last year) & is usually quite prolific to boot.

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