Say what we will about spring in Minnesota this year, but it was pretty perfect for growing spinach. Extended stretches of cool, wet weather and the late arrival of summertime heat were the perfect conditions for a prolific and lengthy spinach harvest. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be hoping for another spring exactly like this one, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a repeat spinach performance.
But all good things must eventually come to an end. As the weather finally caught up with the calendar, the spinach eventually started to bolt and my thoughts turned from spinach pesto to spinach seed saving.
In general, spinach plants are either male or female, but occasionally you will see bolting spinach with both male and female flowers on the same plant. The female plants produce clusters of flowers attached to the immature seed at each node along the plant stem. The male plants produce longer stems of flowers that grow and extend like fingers from each node.
Spinach is wind pollinated and requires a pretty significant isolation distance (up to 2 miles!) to prevent cross-pollination with another spinach variety, so I only allowed one of the two kinds of spinach I was growing to go to seed. When the hybrid variety, Space, showed signs of bolting, I made my last harvest and pulled all of the plants before they could flower, leaving only the heirloom Bloomsdale Long Standing variety to go to seed.
Spinach pollen has a super fine texture, so while I was pretty confident the wind would be sufficient, I would also occasionally shake the male flowers in the direction of the female plants, just for good measure. Also, it was pretty satisfying to see the entire row of spinach plants shimmering in the sunlight with a fine coating of fresh pollen.
Eventually, the male plants finished flowering and died back, leaving the female plants (and the seed) to finish maturing. The female plants continued to stay green for a while before slowly starting to yellow and eventually dry out. The entire process, from bolting to harvesting, took about a month.
I’ll be honest, the part of my brain that wants everything to be neat and tidy and organized, really struggled with letting a small 4′ row of spinach get so overgrown and unruly during this process. But despite my desire for order, a temporarily messy corner of the garden is a small price to pay for saving the seed.
Once all of the plants turned yellow, I removed them from the garden and hung them in the garage to completely dry out. I started by simply pulling the stalks, root and all, but there were a few stalks in the mix that were already pretty dry and brittle, so I carefully cut a few of them out to avoid dropping the seed in the garden.
Once completely dry, I simply run my hand down the stalk to remove the seed. I’m collecting the seed in a small glass jar, and once it has all been harvested, I’ll sift through it to remove the little bits of dried leaves and other plant debris that are in the mix prior to storage. Some of it won’t be in storage for long though; in only a matter of a month or so, it will be time for a fall planting of spinach!