by Sandy Swegel
After weeks of rainy days, we were rewarded with a week of hot sunshine. This is great news for the tomatoes, but it means all those cool-season veggies started to bolt and are going to seed. When summer temperatures warm, all the cilantro and spinach, and lettuce put out lovely seed heads. That’s a sign there won’t be many more leafy greens growing but all the plants’ efforts will go into reproduction and making seeds.
Seed making in the leafy greens means the leaves are going to turn bitter. And once bitter, you never get the sweetness back on those spinaches and lettuces.
Now it is time to make some choices. Gardening is always about choices.
There are early choices about what to plant.
Choices about whether to treat pests.
Choices about when to harvest.
You can yank the plants out and re-seed.
For us, that means big salads for dinner every night this week. We took out our harvesting knives and cut the lettuces and spinach to the ground. Lots of cilantro was done also…so an armload of cilantro greens will go into awesome pesto this week. Dozens of flat edible pea pods were plucked for salad and stir-fry. As the evening cooled, we sat around the outdoor table and watched the tomato plants put out more yellow flowers.
If you are growing your garden primarily to feed yourself, you need to harvest as the market farmers do. When it’s time to cut kale, you don’t just take a few leaves. You get your knife and cut that plant to within two inches of the soil. That shocks the leafy greens and they immediately triple leaf production and you will get two more big harvests out of each plant. Ruthless cutting produces more food.
Another choice is for beauty and generosity. If you allow some of those plants to bolt and start going to seed, you end up with a garden that generously feeds the pollinators and butterflies and birds with flowers and seed heads. The swallowtail butterflies ignored all the dill that I planted for them and instead congregated on one old parsley plant to lay their eggs. Nature’s creatures have reasons for choosing that we don’t always understand.
With the rain this year, bolted lettuce is statuesque, four feet high, and visible across the yard. Purple Merlot lettuce at this size is stunning next to the sweet peas. The dill is taller than I am in the well-watered garden and surrounds all the tomatoes like protective warriors. Yellow mustard flowers and white arugula flowers lean out across the walk begging to be nibbled. Broccoli heads opening up into flowers are beguiling.
So once again you have a choice. You can go out in the hot sun and tidy up your garden that’s going to seed and harvest the last of the good lettuces, or you can let Nature’s idea of Beauty run amok.
Tomato season is now on the way. Life is good.