Help! My Lettuce is Blooming!

Flowering lettuce_BlkForest-CO_LAH_5932My lettuce is blooming. Instead of sweet, tender Buttercrunch and crisp red Prizehead, I have leaves so bitter, even my hens are spurning them. Rats.

At this time of year, it’s common for leafy greens to bloom or, as it’s known in garden-speak, bolt. Long hours of sunlight, combined with torrid temperatures induce flowering. In most cases, there’s nothing to be done. It’s simply time to pull the plants that haven’t yet been harvested and add them to the compost pile.

For example, spinach blooms when days last more than 14 to 16 hours. (Interestingly, spinach will only bloom when days are long.) Warm temperatures will accelerate this process. Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Diane E. Bilderback explain why this happens in The Book of Garden Secrets:

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Spinach

spinach_dbg_20100417_lah_2909True confessions… I am allergic to spinach. Very sad, I know. So, I don’t grow it. Everything I’m about to tell you about spinach cultivation I learned from such wise gardeners as David Whiting, Colorado State University professor and State Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program, and Diane E. Bilderback, one of my favorite garden writers (and, along with Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, author of my favorite veggie gardening book, Garden Secrets).

The first tricky thing about spinach is when to plant it. Being extremely day-length sensitive, it is sure to bolt when it receives 14 or more hour of daylight per day. You can squeeze in a crop as soon as the weather is warm enough (and thankfully, spinach is relatively hardy), or wait until days are getting shorter again and plant for a fall harvest.

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My Favorite Varieties: Asian Greens

Most veggie gardeners grow lettuce, spinach, and perhaps chard, kale or collard greens. Some are familiar with bok choy (spelled a dozen different ways). It’s the adventurous gardeners, or those from overseas, who include veggies such as Mizuna, Salt Wort, Fun Jen, or  Yu Choi Sum.

Since we used to live in Cupertino, California, where my local grocery store was Tin Tin #2, and the closest restaurant served the most incredible mu shu pork and lettuce wrapped chicken, it was only natural that I included some Asian imports in my garden as well.

I admit to having western taste buds, so what I recommend might seem all wrong to someone used to more exotic flavors. However, I like what I like. Maybe you will too.

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Bloomin’ Lettuce

lettuce-bolting_home_lah_5096Mid-summer has finally caught up with my spring garden. The lettuce I set out in early May has matured. We’ve eaten dozens of salads and shared the bounty with friends. The few heads that remain are beginning to stretch upwards. Sweet leaves are turning bitter. When the plants we grow for greens decide to grow flowers instead of leaves, we all that “bolting.”

I was hoping to stretch my lettuce harvest one more week, but a hail storm this afternoon sealed the fate of my spring lettuce patch. The chickens don’t give a cluck about the bitterness, so the now-shredded leaves are all theirs.

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Plant Fall Crops Now

Plant? NOW?

brusselssprouts_dbg_lah_7726Temperatures are climbing into the 90s, your spring-planted crops are reaching maturity, and you’re excited about garden fresh salads and new potatoes. Besides harvesting your bounty, there are millions of weeds to be pulled, poisoned, or decapitated. The last thing on your mind is planting more seeds.

In more benign climates, fall crops go in at the end of the summer, after the worst heat has passed. Our short season demands that we plant fall crops earlier, to give them time to mature before the snow flies. Now is the time.

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