Growing Spinach through the Winter in Wisconsin


“There is a fellow around here who plants bulk spinach in his garden each fall and then harvests it in early spring. I’ve only heard about this guy; I’ve never actually met him, so I can’t ask any questions. Do you know whether it actually is possible to plant spinach in the fall? If so, which variety would you suggest? We have a 20 foot X 20 foot plot we plan to plant out. I usually plant it with winter rye to prevent erosion, but this alternative sounded really nice.

John Mueller”

 

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Hi John,

Thank you for the post regarding spinach.  Yes, it is possible to grow spinach in Wisconsin during the winter, but you have to have a few tricks to get around old man winter.

I’m not sure if you and I are thinking of the same farmer, but there is one down by Paoli or Monroe that does this as a business and sells spinach through the winter at the Madison Farmer’s Market.  I want to say the lady’s name is Judy Hagman or Hageman or something similar, because she spoke to our organic horticulture class when I was in graduate school.
winter-spinach
The way that spinach can be grown here is by using a high tunnel, which is a form of hoop house.  If you are not familiar with them, they are pretty much like a poly-plastic greenhouse.  The heating inside comes from the sun and there usually is no mechanical equipment like fans and heaters involved.  Depending on the parameters of a farmer’s operation, they may be stationary or moveable.  They can be used to extend a growing season (planting corn or tomatoes in April inside) or to use over the winter.

Spinach planted in the autumn can be harvested with repeated cuttings through the winter and into the spring. Autumn planting date is critical to winter harvests.  Through the short cold days of winter spinach continues to grow, but at a much, much reduced rate.  This growth reduction takes effect around mid-November around here.  Autumn crops must grow vegetatively before this time to carry the crop through the winter.  Usually a good time to plant to get crop to the proper stage of growth is in September.

If you are interested in having your own high tunnel, I recommend first checking out a book called “The Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman.  You can get it from your local library or you can purchase it online or in person at Barnes and Noble (because they usually have at least one on the shelf when I’m looking for new books in that area. Coleman is from Maine and he is VERY knowledgeable about how to grow just about everything in high tunnels — and even has one attached onto his house.  Definitely a good read.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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2 thoughts on “Growing Spinach through the Winter in Wisconsin

  1. Thank you so much for your quick response.

    Hmmm… Sounds like something I won’t be able to do this year, but maybe next year. The guy I’m thinking of is actually planting it as a ground cover and not harvesting it during the winter, but instead waits until early spring. We live in a hilly area. In fact, there isn’t a single level piece of ground on my entire property. So, we’ve been planting winter rye every fall as a ground cover to control erosion. I then till it into the soil as green manure in the spring. I had thought that if I could plant spinach instead on this one small plot, I could get a spinach crop in the spring instead of tilling the winter rye into the ground–sort of a means of double dipping. The plot is at the far end of my property. There isn’t any way to get to it in winter because the snow gets too deep, so I wouldn’t be harvesting the spinach until after the snow clears enough in spring.

    John

    • Hi John,

      Oh, okay, I see where you are coming from. Yes, it is possible to grow spinach that way too, but I haven’t had good luck with it. Growing up, my Mom was the gardener and my Dad… well, he liked to ‘fiddle with gardening’, as my Mom puts it. One of the things Dad ‘fiddled’ with was
      planting a crop of winter spinach for 2 or 3 winters. He planted it about his time of year, had it grow up until it was going to snow, put a little straw over it to protect it, and let it do its thing. The problem he had with it was having voles or mice or something nibbling on it in winter. When spring came, my Mom would say “get that out of the garden” (because she doesn’t do well with wild animals) and that was pretty much then end of that. I’m not sure if he ever did it without straw, but I’ll give him a call tonight and ask.

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