Monday, March 21, 2016

Bitter Greens Ahead?

Plant babies in the garden, enjoying some cool weather.
Cool season crops, planted a few weeks ago from transplants that I started indoors, have taken hold in the garden and are looking very promising.

The past couple of weeks of very warm weather, though, have me wondering whether these great looking little plants will have the chance to become tasty additions to our meals.

Lettuces, spinach, beets, and cilantro (there is a short row of kale further back) are the cool season crops that are shown here. We call them "cool season" crops because they can survive some very cold weather.

Closer view of a little lettuce. March 2016.
They won't grow much while it is freezing cold, but as spring comes along and moderates the air and soil temperatures, they grow quite well.

They will even grow in the summer, but the flavor is not nearly as good, especially for lettuce, which gets bitter enough that tasting it is an experience most of us would prefer to miss.

In addition, lettuces and all the rest tend to send up flowering shoots (we call this "bolting") as the temperatures rise into the eighties, and in a spring like this one the leaves might not have a chance to get big enough to make much of a meal before the plants all bolt.

I know some kale fanatics who grow kale all through the summer, since it is one of the few cool-season crops that doesn't bolt and turn bitter in the heat, and they claim that it tastes good, but I have eaten summer-grown kale and it is not as sweet as the winter kale. To me, this makes a big difference. I will keep the spring kale in the garden until I need the space for summer veggies, but that won't be any later than mid-May. By then, it will already be less tasty.

In the meantime, slightly cooler days have returned for a brief while. If we end up with a very short spring, with early high temperatures that mess with my plants, my gamble with the spring crops will be a loss. This is a case, though, of "you can't win if you don't play," so I will be glad that I tried, regardless of the outcome. Some years, this gamble pays off very well, and we have wonderful lettuces and other cool-season crops until well into May. The great news is that, if the cool season crops don't work out now, I will have another chance in late summer to start more for fall.

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