“I don’t understand why we continue to order lettuce,” remarked a silver-haired clerk as she stocked the seeds beside where I stood in our local nursery. I glanced cautiously at her, unsure if she was actually speaking to me or if I was witnessing the senseless mutterings of a stock-clerk-by-day-and-gardener-by-night.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand the muttering! I spend most mornings clomping through my backyard garden in work-heels, watering and tending to plants, all the while trying not to dirty my clothes. And where there is clomping, often there is muttering. Sometimes it’s pleased Hmmm’s and approving Oooh’s when the pumpkin leaves have doubled in size over night or when the potatoes I really thought were going to die seem to have found their second wind. Other times it’s under-the-breath reminders that I need to make a trellis for the peas (Note: Katie, you do need to make a trellis for the peas!) or that the compost container needs turning (a job I tend to skip in the mornings, as I’d rather not come to work smelling of fertilizer). And, once in a while, it’s utter despair to find the artichoke plant that was coming back so nicely has been slaughtered in the moonlight by vicious, disgusting, slimy, hateful snails.
(I’m coming for you, snails.)
So, believe me. Muttering I get. I just didn’t know how to reply! So, I did what I often do in social situations and immediately regret seconds later: I pretend I know exactly what she’s talking about.
“I was just thinking that!” I blurted.
I held my breath, hoping that my words sounded more like a sneeze or a weird cough. You know, the type you want to pretend you didn’t hear because how embarrassing for that person. But, I’d engaged and the woman quickly abandoned her seed packets to give me a big ol’ smile.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” she continued. I was on the edge of my seat at this point, because why did lettuce not make sense? Was there a lettuce plague I’d missed in the news? Were “bath salt” abusers using lettuce patches to find tasty neighborhood vegetarians for their zombie attacks? Were–(sometimes it’s good, really good, if my train of thought is derailed).
“They’re going to bolt. We’re a month past our growing period and yet, we keep ordering seeds and plants and they’re flying off the shelves!”
Hmm. At this point, I’d abandoned the zombie theory and started to ponder her colorful choice of words. “Bolt.” To me, it sounded as though she was personifying leafy greens and insinuating that they would lift their skirts, knock the dirt off their roots and head for better weather before sundown. But instead of asking questions, I let myself continue to be mystified by this silver-haired gardening genius as she warned me off purchasing any lettuces, suggested chard, and told me Brussels sprouts were an absolute no-no for the moment.
And why is that? They’d ‘bolt,’ naturally.
Well, I hadn’t consulted this Armstrong Nursery Seer before planting my spinach and lettuce a few weeks prior, so it was already too late. Plus, things seemed to be moving along swimmingly. Every morning I’d go through my morning routine and then leave the house with a bag so I could collect salad greens on my way to the car. Is there anything more lovely than that? (Please don’t burst my bubble.)
But then.. then I started noticing a change. The spinach plants seemed to sprout these stalks of flower buds over night and the leaves were not only changing shape, but weren’t getting as large. To combat this (or so I thought), I trimmed the buds and said confidently to my family: “Oh, don’t worry. They’re trying to bolt.” A sudden authority on the subject, I spent a lot of time trimming those flowers, continuing to collect leaves, and beating the odds, I thought.
Last night, though, my husband made the mistake of asking me what it meant when plants bolted, and since I didn’t have a clear picture I had to resort to pulling up gardening message boards and reading passages to him while he tried to fall asleep. But! I learned a lot, especially considering spinach. For those of you planning on growing leafy greens, here’s a little beginner’s info!
- Bolting is also known as “going to seed.” The plant’s natural cycle knows that, at a certain temperature, it’s time to start reproducing that way it’ll be able to come back in another form, eventually. In the case of spinach, it seems like the temperature triggers this event.
- The leaves on spinach can be eaten once it’s bolted for sure (heck, I’m still doing it!), but according to a lot of avid gardeners the leaves aren’t nearly as tasty. The spinach plant is no longer putting it’s effort in producing delicious, beautiful leaves but is completely focused on propagating it’s species. That’s also why the leaves are smaller and shaped differently.
- Cutting off these flower buds doesn’t do anything! I thought I was saving my spinach from a teenage pregnancy, but in reality I was giving it four sets of triplets. The more buds you cut, the more the plant grows.
So, while the spinach is singing it’s swan song, I’m trying to figure out what to plant in its wake. Chard, I suppose. That seems to be a popular leafy-green for warmer months. The romaine-esque lettuce we have growing is still going pretty strong, so I should have another couple weeks of breakfast lettuce picking.