“Going to seed,” isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. (Click on any image to begin slide show.)
We love spring planting. After a long winter of being cooped up indoors, drooling over seed catalogs, there’s nothing better than staying outside from sun-up to sunset preparing and planting the new year’s garden.
But even we’ll admit that when it comes to planting a second or third round of seeds for late season harvests, we stoop to the soil with a little less enthusiasm. The garden in mid-summer provides enough chores between weeding, watering, harvesting and preserving that adding the task of re-seeding seems a little less seductive. Luckily, there are several spring garden crops that are more than happy to do the work themselves.
The trick is in the timing. Most lettuces and other fast-growing spring leaf crops hate the summer. Once the days and nights are consistently above 70 F their thoughts turn to death. Well, actually they turn to sex, then dying. Lettuces and herbs send up a central stalk that eventually flowers. This is called bolting, and most leaf crops become too bitter to eat once the flower stalk has formed. But from these flowers come seeds. And, if this all happens quickly enough, these seeds will fall to the ground and sprout a new crop that will be ready for harvesting before the first hard frosts come.
There are other benefits to not pulling up plants the moment they begin to bolt. If you’ve harvested most of your spring crop of a particular vegetable, but a fall crop isn’t scheduled to be replanted for several weeks or months, the bed will wind up sitting there empty and forlorn. (It’s true. Garden beds have real issues with depression.) Even worse yet, you’ll have to keep weeding an empty bed. (And that will depress you.) Even aesthetically, a bed full of flowers is much nicer to look at than waiting dirt. Remember, that we’re not advocating skipping the spring harvest altogether. Letting just a few radishes, lettuce heads, pea vines go to seed will result in hundreds of new seeds, and hopefully seedlings. You can harvest 99% of your spring crops and what’s left behind will provide more than enough seeds for autumn.
But not all crops will re-seed in time to provide a second-coming. With the exception of radishes, there usually isn’t enough time for most root crops like turnips, beets, and carrots to bolt, flower, re-seed and mature before the snow starts swirling. And some summers don’t get hot enough for these varieties to bolt at all. At least not in our growing zone. The reliable re-seeders for us are radishes, peas, lettuces, arugula, spinach, dill, cilantro and sometimes fava beans. Which crops will reseed and provide a second harvest for you? There’s no way you’ll know if you don’t experiment. (Also, seeds from many hybrids will grow plants that have reverted to their original ancestral varieties. To be certain to get a second crop of the same variety, always plant heirloom varieties.)
Let us know if you allow any crops to re-sow in the comment section below, and tell us where you live.