How To Harvest Spinach For More Growth

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a versatile green leafy vegetable rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Though it's easy to sow and quick to grow, this annual plant must be harvested right to encourage continued growth and to produce new leaves for subsequent harvests every few days. The simplest way is to harvest individual leaves by cutting them at their stem. This method is ideal if you just need a few fresh leaves for your salad or smoothie. But if you need more, you can cut several more leaves at the base of their stems to harvest spinach by the bunch.

Even though it's necessary to harvest spinach appropriately, it's equally important to pluck the leaves at an appropriate time to preserve its taste and prevent bolting. Since spinach is a cold crop, it grows best during spring and fall. So it might bolt — that is, grow large stalks with thin leaves — if it's subject to hot weather, developing a bitter taste. Thus, it's important to know when and how to harvest spinach for sustained growth.

When and how to harvest spinach

Once planted, spinach leaves need approximately six to eight weeks to mature. Harvesting of spinach can begin once the outer leaves reach about 6 inches in length. In comparison, baby spinach takes about 20 to 30 days to reach harvest size, which is about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Remember, spinach must be plucked early in the morning or in the evening to prevent heat from stressing the fresh-cut leaves.

To begin harvesting spinach by individual leaves, gently remove the mulch and soil surrounding the base of the plant. Now, pick a leaf on the outer portion of the plant; you'll want to pluck the older leaves first and let the young ones keep growing. Once you've got a hold of the leaf, use a scissor to cut it by the stem, leaving almost 1/2 inch of stem above the soil surface.

Ensure you don't harvest more than 25% to 30% of a single plant in one go to encourage your plant to keep growing and producing more leaves. You can even harvest leaves by the bunch. Just gather the leaves from a plant and cut the stems using a garden or serrated knife. Be careful not to damage the plant's crown to allow spinach to regrow for multiple harvests.

Store your harvested spinach leaves

Spinach leaves have a short shelf life once they're harvested. This isn't a matter of concern if you pluck a few leaves for immediate consumption. But if you gather them by the bunch and are unable to use them all shortly, you need to store them appropriately to keep them fresh for longer and keep their nutrition intact.

Pluck and remove dead and brown leaves from the harvested pile before soaking and rinsing the rest of the spinach leaves. This will help get rid of the dirt and grime sticking to the leaves. Now, gently wrap the leaves in a clean and damp kitchen or paper towel. Place the bundled leaves in an airtight container or plastic bag and put the bag or container in the refrigerator. Stored like this, spinach can remain fresh for up to 10 days in the fridge if the refrigerator's temperature is set correctly; that is, below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (per a Penn State University study, the ideal temperature for spinach is 39 F). You can also dehydrate the leaves if you want to store them for longer.