Spinach & Onions

Spinach and onions love cool weather. Every year in early spring I’m anxious to get them planted. Warm temperatures make the spinach bolt, and as it sends up its flower and seed stalk, it quits putting out leaves. Onions also don’t like it hot, so we can hardly get these two planted too early.

But I’m trying. Near the garlic beds in the new orchard are a few beds already composted, limed, and ready to plant. I thought I might mulch these unplanted beds and then pull the mulch back in early spring to get a jump on the spinach and onion crop.

I’d heard about planting spinach in late fall and letting it over-winter as a small plant. Maybe we should try that. The back of the spinach package recommends fall planting and covering the young seedlings with a protective mulch or plant bed row cover.

Eric and Cher blew us away last summer with their huge Walla Walla onions. In answer to our queries, we learned they had planted seed in August and set out the plants later in the fall. They mulched them with hay or straw. I asked Eric to buy extra seed next time, and he brought it over this summer.

An old carrot bed wasn’t doing anything productive, so we made seven rows in it and planted the small black seeds of the Walla Walla, Sweet Vidalia type onion. Soon the bed was full of plants which we kept relatively free of weeds during the fall.

It’s been a busy year, and before I knew it November arrived. Seems kind of cold, late and wet to think about planting a garden, I briefly thought to myself, but the hopeful side soon popped up. “We’ll never know if we never try,” was the thought that joined with, “you can*t harvest it if you don’t plant it,” and up the hill we went.

I hoed shallow furrows in the first of the beds, which are about 175 feet long. The row closest to the garlic patch got Indian Summer spinach seed in it, and the next row was planted in Tyee spinach. I thinly sprinkled the seed about an inch apart, and then gently raked over the rows.

The next bed received the slender onion plants. Wondering how far apart to set them out, we recalled Eric and Cher’s onions being six inches in diameter. So we aimed for a six-inch spacing, again with only two rows to the bed.

Normally I like three in a bed, but the question of how to get mulch between such tight rows plagued me. With plenty of space, I figured it’d be easier to mulch and the onions wouldn’t be too crowded together. Soon, two pretty, green rows graced the bed.

There will still plants left over, and an empty bed nearby was begging for them. As we started planting the two rows of onions, the spinach seed in my shirt pocket began making noise. I suppose it was just shuffling in its package, but I thought it was wanting to be planted.

That’s when I remembered an old gardening trick, companion planting. Spinach and onions are companions, they like to grow near each other. Spinach is grown for its leaf, and has a tap root. Onion on the other hand, is grown for its bulb, and has small, raying rootlets which stay near the soil surface. So they each take different nutrients to grow and utilize a different layer underground. Both like it cool, I don*t know yet whether they*ll like winter weather.

As you can imagine, I picked up the hoe and made a row right down the middle of the bed. Flanked by Walla Wallas on either side, another 175 feet of spinach seed awaits its fate. It poured late that night and all of the next day, which was Election Day. I faithfully went to the polls and cast my vote-spinach for senator and onion for governor.

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