Lettuce bolts at different stages, even within the same variety.
Bolting Bok Choy
Note the white sap exuding from where the leaf has been ripped from the elongated stem.
Fill dishpan with water. Leaves discarded at left were too mature or bug-munched so will go to the compost pile.
Press down the leaves so all get submerged.
After third rinse, transfer leaves into collander to drain.
Transfer leaves into ziplock bags.
Press out as much air as possible, and seal the ziplock. Refrigerate or give to friends!
If you choose to let the lettuce set its seed, it'll look like this with tiny blossoms blooming over a 3- or 4-week period.
You'll want to tie paper bags over the entire seedhead so mature seed won't fall to the ground before the rest of the seed matures. Don't use plastic bags because they'll retain moisture and rot the seed. When the stem is crispy dry, it's ready to break off and store the whole bag-and-all where it'll stay dry until fall when you'll crush and scatter the seeds in the garden.
Finally, cooler weather, back into the low-to-mid 70s with even some rain promised for later this week. MUCH nicer for transplanting all those tomatoes you’re hopefully purchasing at all the plant sales all over Southern California! That couple of weeks of 80+ temperatures resulted in many of my lettuces and spinaches and bok choys bolting – sending up those long stalks, flowering, and setting seed. Here’s how I was able to continue harvesting individual leaves from each plant up until they were just too bitter.
Salvaging Bolting Greens For More Eating
This process will extend the harvest by up to two or three weeks for each plant, since you’re taste-testing each plant as it begins to move into its reproductive stage of life. Each plant – even of the same variety – will be different in how soon or late it becomes inedible, so you’ll want to deal with each plant separately.
As each plant begins to elongate its central stem, taste one of the mature-but-not old leaves. If it still tastes fine, you know you can harvest the entire plant, and remove each leaf from the elongated stem. If the leaf tastes too bitter, pull the plant and toss into the compost pile.
As you strip away each lettuce leaf, you may see white sap exuding from the tear at the stem. This is a cue that the leaf may be bitter-tasting.
Soak the harvested leaves for about 20 minutes. I like to use a large dishpan so the leaves have lots of room to move. Depending on the size of the harvest, I may have to use several dishpans.
The leaves will float, so push them under the water several times so the entire leaves can absorb the water.
Try not to disturb the dirt particles that have settled to the bottom of the container.
Transfer leaves to another clean rinsing container, removing any debris from the garden.
Repeat with clean water two more times.
This three-time process accomplishes two things – it displaces any bitterness with clean water, and it crisps the leaves.
Transfer leaves to colanders to drain. No need to spin or otherwise dry further – the residual water drops will keep the leaves crisp when refrigerated.
Transfer leaves into ziplock bags. I like to sort different leaves – lettuces, spinaches, beets, bokchoys – and sizes so I’ll have many choices when I’m preparing different recipes or combining salads.
Fill each bag as fully as the leaves allow without crushing or stuffing tightly.
Gently press most of the air out of each bag, and press the ziplock. No need to remove all of the air, however. This mostly-vacuum environment will extend the refrigerated life of all the leaves.
Use this soaking process for all greens from the garden, whether or not they're bolting!
Letting Plants Bolt So You Can Save Seed Of course, another option is to let individual plants continue their bolting process so you’ll have seeds to use for next year’s crop. The only caveat is to save seeds from non-hybrid varieties if you want to get the exact same plant you grew. If it’s a hybrid variety, the seed will germinate into many variations of what you grew this time – sometimes a good thing but many times not what you were expecting. But who knows – you might invent something new!