What to do when your greens bolt

Bolting greens have essentially decided – in response to heat, lengthening days, and any other stresses – that it’s time to make make seed, and to make as much seed as they can, using all the energy stored in their roots.  Though we can’t convince them to go back to making large, tender leaves again, we can reap other benefits from them, and we can extend our harvest windows with methods like succession planting.

Once this spinach had started to bolt, weeding it was no longer a priority for us. Luckily we had a later planting of spinach just coming on.  The younger spinach hasn’t been through as much cold, and so it will tolerate more heat than this planting before it bolts.  We also spread out the harvest from this patch by harvesting taller plants first, thus giving the shorter plants more room to grow outward.

In the process of bolting, lettuce becomes extremely extremely bitter.  By harvesting early in the morning – not many hours after sunrise – I find I can often still get good-tasting greens off of bolting lettuce, but the lettuce in this picture is simply too mature to harvest. The lettuce plants to the left are farther along in the bolting process than the plants to the right, probably because they’ve gotten more sun.  The cilantro in the background has also bolted, but its leaves still taste about the same as they did when the plants were younger.  The cilantro flowers and immature seeds are also edible, and mature cilantro seeds are coriander.

Our farm’s fall and winter vegetable garden from late 2014 now looks like a meadow. The bluish leaves and yellow flowers are kale.  These flowers feed bees, other pollinators, and sometimes people.  We’ve also been letting our cow graze at the edge of this garden-turned-meadow.

The mature, flowering stems of plants in the brassica family, including kale, collards, mustard, arugula, and cabbage, tend to be tough, and the leaves have a strong flavor that you might not like, though it’s not nearly as bitter as bolting lettuce.  But the the flowers themselves can make great additions to salads and great snacks in the garden.  I especially like arugula flowers in salads, but for this salad we used mustard flowers.

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Five reasons I love Anise-Hyssop.

1. I consider Anise-hyssop one of the most underused of unusual salad greens.  It tastes like licorice, but in my opinion, better.  Its flavor is stronger than most common salad greens,  so you might want to chop the leaves up into small pieces before using them in a salad.  I like the leaves’ flavor most before the flowers get very big, but I do often use it in edible bouquets.

2. Anise-hyssop is easy to grow.  It does well in partial shade throughout our summers and also in cooler weather.  It often self-sows in the garden.  It also often comes up from its roots where it was planted the year before.  The anise-hyssop we planted last year is coming up now in our herb garden.  This is also a fine time to start it from seed.

3. Anise-hyssop has beautiful purple flowers.

4. Anise-hyssop attracts butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

5. Anise-hyssop makes a delightful tea.  I think this is it most common use.  Leaves, flowers, and stems are all suited to tea brewing.  Fresh, it is one of  my favorite tea herbs, and you can dry it, too.  Anise-hyssop both tastes great and soothes the stomach.  (Here, you can also see the branches above reflected in the surface of the tea.)

It’s not anise.  It’s not hyssop.  It’s really quite different from both of them.  And it’s almost impossible to find in grocery stores, so we make sure to dry our own for winter teas. Click here to buy anise-hyssop seeds.

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Seedlings being born

Most people find harvest to be the most enjoyable stage of growing a vegetable in your garden, but sowing seeds and watching them germinate can also be a lovely experience.

When a seed starts to germinate, first it anchors itself in the soil with a root; here, one white root is visible near the top right. Then, most of the remainder of the seed transforms into cotyledons, or seed-leaves. Cotyledons generally look completely different from a plants’ other leaves. These are mustard seedlings.

Even within one crop type, some varieties will take noticeably longer than others to germinate. Often varieties that are more similar to the plants’ wild ancestors will take longer. Wild plants don’t get as dependable a supply of water or protection from cold. These collards and kale seedlings are for our 2015 trial and observation plot.

Knowing your plant families can help a lot with seedling identification.  Seedlings from the same family often look very similar.  For example, these pepper seedlings look a lot like tomato seedlings. The front center seedlings shows it strength by pushing a lump of soil up and out of the way.

Bigger seeds unsurprisingly make for bigger sprouts, but these two kinds of flower seedlings should take about the same amount of time to get to transplanting size, so we planted them in the same flat.

Anise-hyssop, at left, takes a lot longer to germinate than Holy basil, at right.  Once they germinate, both grow quickly.

As the cotyledons unfurl, we can still see parts of the dark red seed coats of these red lima bean shoots.  Below the red layer, we can see that a brown membrane and a thicker green layer also encased the cotyledons.

This okra seedling looks a lot like a cotton seedling.  They are in the same family.



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