Lettuce that we’ve been eating individually-plucked leaves since October are finally following their natural process dictated by the 80°F heat we’ve had for a couple of weeks. This doesn’t mean the end of lettuce season, however, nor of parsley and cilantro and broccoli and bok choy, all of which are bolting. It just means sowing more seeds, although this time of more heat-tolerant varieties.
Harvesting lettuce that’s begun to bolt requires a plant-by-plant taste test because each variety and each plant may develop its bitterness at different rates and degrees. Each of us enjoy or will tolerate different levels of bitterness. To avoid an entire salad of some too-bitter and some still-tolerable-amount-of-bitter leaflets, it’s best to test each plant before you harvest the whole thing and combine the leaves with all the others. The tell-tale sign is the white sap that exudes from the leaf bases as you rip it from the plant. Taste one or two leaves from each plant, and then determine whether to harvest the rest of the leaves on that plant or to pull the plant and add it to the compost pile. In the picture at left, the leaves I’ve left in the pathway were the bottommost older leaves that I’ll add to the compost pile.
You can extend the palatability of almost-too-bitter leaves by soaking in water for 30 minutes, then pouring out the water and repeating for another 30 minutes. This will crisp up the lettuce, and the bitter compound in the leaves will be exchanged for the fresh water. Thus, you can get another week or two or three of harvests before the bitterness becomes too intolerable.
March and April are usually the times we can sow both the last cool-season veggies and flowers, along with the first of the heat-lovers, since we never know whether the weather will turn cool or warm. But, there hasn’t been any “normal” weather for years. So, just cover your possibilities now so that however the upcoming weather plays out, your garden will be producing delicious yummies and fabulous flowers for your family to enjoy.
Since I’m now fortunate enough to be able to wander in my garden on most days, not just weekends, I’m enjoying being more conscious – and surprised – of what blooms are emerging each day. I’m including some for your enjoyment - freesia, alstroemeria, Charles Grimaldi brugsmania, pentas, and that glorious Ferraria crispa!