El Spinach loves El Nino

Unseasonably wet weather has been my constant companion since moving on to Montana. (Locally attributed to the final phase of an El Nino ’09-’10 winter.) What’s normally a very hot, dry and arid beginning of summer, has instead lolled around as a decidedly wet, cool and lingering spring. Forest fire danger is usually very high this time of year, but Smokey the Bear has been silenced this season.

So has much of our crop growth. Even settled in the center of this cove known as Sleeping Child where our fields get the minimum and more of 6 hours of sunlight per day (it’s actually light here by 6am and just getting dark by 10pm,) with as overcast as drizzly as it has almost constantly been, the plants are apparently choosing to be unresponsive to their innate instinct to just grow! Now, some growth IS happening; the pea shoots are slowly but steadily climbing their way up the trellising, the chard and kale in the high tunnel are broadening and enlarging their leaves, and the eggplants have shot up a considerable 6 inches at least since my arrival. But the peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce mix, herbs and even most of the weeds stand resistant.

But one of the great things about growing a diversity of crops, is that each one has its own preferences and ideal growing conditions; this damp season really highlights the spinach.

Spinach loves cool soil and daytime temperatures that don’t get far above 65F. It also likes a steady soil moisture content and shorter days. Everything from too warm temperatures, longer days and fluctuating soil moisture can cause spinach to give up and bolt. But the spinach this year in Montana is steady, productive and even thriving. On its 4th harvest now, only the relative lack of soil nutrients is causing it to be anything less than a shining star (due to a paler green complexion of the outer leaves) on the salad plates of diners at the Farm Table Restaurant.

When planting your own spinach, it’s best to start sowing when soil temperatures reach an average of 45F in the spring, thin to 4-6 inches apart once the seedlings show 2 true leaves (it hates to be crowded and will reward you with larger, fuller greens,) keep the soil evenly moist throughout the growing period and try to make successive plantings every couple of weeks for optimal harvesting. Once the days get to be longer than 16 hours, spinach will generally go ahead and bolt, but varieties like “Bloomsdale,” “Tyee,” or “Space” are known for being more bolt-resistant.

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