Now that you’ve tended to your spinach plants and allowed them to grow into beautiful rosettes, you may be thinking about how to harvest spinach. Since spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a cool-weather vegetable related to swiss chard, you won’t be growing it during the heat of the summer.
Spinach is a popular crop to plant in the early spring or late summer since it is cold hardy and can tolerate full sun to partial shade. The variety Winter Bloomsdale is an option if you want an overwintering spinach crop to grow in a greenhouse or cold frame. It’s also resistant to downy mildew which can be a concern in cold climates.
What’s nice when you grow spinach plants is that you can harvest it as a microgreen, baby leaf, or mature leaf and all of these are tasty when eaten raw. Each growth stage has its own benefit and you can easily plant spinach in intervals to enjoy the different flavors and textures. The outer leaves are used when harvesting baby spinach or mature spinach, but we will go into more detail about that later in this article.
We have a detailed guide about growing spinach to help you achieve healthy plants with high yields. But for now, let’s focus on how to harvest spinach plants and discuss methods of short-term and long-term storage so you can enjoy this vegetable throughout the year.
When Should I Harvest Spinach?
Spinach can be harvested throughout the growing season from an early spring harvest to a fall harvest. It is a cool-season crop, so it is best grown in the spring and again in the early fall when the soil temperature is between 45 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can harvest spinach leaves that are non-mature or mature. Baby leaves from young plants are great if you want a more tender texture and sweet flavor while mature leaves will be chewier with a neutral taste similar to swiss chard. You’ll want to cut the spinach before it goes to seed (also called bolting), otherwise, the leaves will have a bitter taste and tough texture.
The ideal size to harvest baby spinach is when the plant is at least 6 inches tall and the leaves are 2 to 3 inches long. Start harvesting mature outer leaves on spinach plants when they are 3 to 6 inches long. A few leaves might be even larger, but as long as the plant hasn’t bolted (set seed), they will be good to eat.
You can tell your spinach plants are going to bolt once the outside temperature reaches 75 degrees Fahrenheit and/or you see a stem growing up in the middle of the foliage. Now is the time to harvest the entire plant because the formation of spinach seeds takes away the energy needed for healthy leaf production as well as causes the older leaves to become bitter.
How To Harvest Spinach
Harvesting spinach is an easy process, but there are different methods to harvest depending on the maturity of the plant. The first method is to cut by the leaf from the spinach plant. This way you are harvesting only what you need at the time and it will encourage new growth from the entire plant. Spinach is versatile because it is a fast-growing plant that can tolerate multiple harvests.
When harvesting the leaves (baby or mature), take only the outer larger leaves and no more than ¼ of the whole plant. Taking only a small amount will ensure the growing spinach continues to survive and thrive. Use a sharp pair of kitchen or utility scissors and leave approximately ½ inch of stem on the plant which keeps the leaf node intact and encourages thicker growth. If the stem is tender, you can simply pinch the leaf from the plant.
Another method used for a spinach harvest is called clear-cutting by the bunch. This is ideal when you want a lot of leaves at once to freeze or dry for later use. Use a sharp serrated knife and gather up all the spinach leaves of one plant into a bunch and cut the stems ½ inch above the crown. The crown is just above the soil’s surface where all the stems meet. You can get a second harvest in approximately 10 to 14 days.
The last method is to harvest the spinach plants by removing the entire root system. This is a wonderful method if you are ready to remove the whole crop at the end of the season and you don’t want any re-growth. Take a serrated knife and cut below the crown so that the whole plant comes up from the soil. The remaining roots will decompose and add nutrients to your soil.
How To Store Fresh Spinach
After harvesting your bounty of spinach plants, you now need to know the best way to store the fresh spinach leaves. Let’s look at two different methods: dry cold storage and freezer storage. For both processes, you will want to remove any wilted, slimy, or off-colored leaves from the batch because these have the potential to cause the rest to go bad.
Clean spinach by rinsing with cold water and then use a salad spinner to get rid of the excess water. Place the leaves on a paper towel and pat them dry. Now you are ready to move on to the next step of both methods.
Dry cold storage is by far the most popular because it is easy and it’s always nice to have fresh spinach on hand. You don’t want your spinach to be wet when stored in the fridge because this will cause the leaves to become slimy. Wrap your spinach in a dry paper towel, then place it in a plastic bag. Try to remove any excess air before placing it in the refrigerator. This should last for up to 10 days.
You could also wait to wash your spinach until you are ready to use it to decrease the potential for moisture damage. Alternatively, you can put the wrapped leaves into a plastic container to increase the storage life to 12-14 days.
To store your spinach in the freezer you can do a quick rinse to remove dirt and insects, but you won’t need to dry the spinach because it will have to be blanched in boiling water or steamed for two minutes. After cooking the spinach, place it in ice water for another two minutes to stop the cooking process.
Once it has cooled, use a salad spinner to remove the excess water and pat dry with a towel. Put desired portions into freezer bags and remove excess air. The frozen spinach will keep in the freezer for up to one year.
How To Dry Spinach
The next option is to dehydrate your spinach. For all three drying methods, put the spinach leaves in a single layer with space between them to allow for adequate airflow. Once it is clean and dry (follow the same steps as discussed earlier), place the spinach in your dehydrator at 125F for 4 to 8 hours or until it is crispy and brittle.
The oven can also be used to dehydrate the spinach. Heat your oven to 125 degrees and place the spinach on a baking sheet; then bake for 2 to 3 hours. Air-drying is another drying option if you have plenty of space and extra time. Place clean and dry spinach leaves on a drying rack in a warm spot with good airflow. It will take up to 2 to 3 weeks for the spinach to dry adequately.
Store dehydrated spinach in an airtight container such as glass mason jars or plastic containers in a dark location for up to a year. If you really want to save space and reduce extra cost, consider freeze-drying your spinach. It will keep for up to 25 years!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will spinach grow back after cutting?
A: Yes, as long as you don’t cut the crown (aka growing point) too low or remove it. The crown is where the growing spinach develops, and you need to keep at least ½ inch to 2 inches of the crown after you’ve harvested a bunch of leaves.
Q: How do you know spinach is ready to pick?
A: When the spinach plants are shaped like a rosette and have at least 6 leaves, you can begin harvesting. However, it’s best to wait until the plants mature a little longer, allowing the leaves to get 3 to 6 inches long.
Q: How many times can spinach be harvested?
A: Since it is a cool-weather vegetable, you will only be able to get 3 to 4 cuttings from your spinach plants before the temperature reaches 75 degrees Fahrenheit and it goes to seed. But don’t be afraid to plant spinach again in the early fall so you can continue harvesting until winter sets in.