Going to seed

“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.

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  • By: sallylaegeler@mac.com

    I allow chamomile, dill, snapdragons, parsley, borage, alpine strawberries, snowdrops, scilla, aconite, to reseed itself.

  • By: rebeccca

    I have had success letting kale go to seed, red potatoes, zinnias love to return also. Our farm is in western Tennessee.

  • By: kristen

    Hi I’m in Indiana and I let my loose leaf lettuce go to seed. Not because I was thinking ahead, but because I lost the battle of the weeds. Now on to raised beds. Have you tried putting plastic on the soil to kill everything that could grow. That way no weeds to begin with. I use plastic that people throw away when it warms up outside. The stuff they put on windows. It gets the soil toasty.

  • By: Happy2bctc

    Instead of being depressed about weeding an empty bed, you should cover the ground with newspaper. It will hold back the weeds. The ink is made from soy, so it will not harm your soil.

    I am going to try to let some of my lettuce bolt next year. Thanks for the Tip!

  • By: sue tolbert

    I am so happy that this showed up just in time. I did pull some of the different lettuce because it was so bitter. Hopefully now all thats left will bring on a new crop. I also couldn’t wait, so I dug around the potatoe plants and there I found some beautiful red skins just waiting for me. We should have lots of potatoes for months to come. Who said you can’t be a city farmer. thanks guys for more helpful hints. sue t.

  • By: joyce

    poppies! i love poppies (of all kinds) and always let mine run wild in the garden! :-)

  • By: CaliGirl

    Thanks for the hints. Some should even work out here in California. Glad to see I’m not the only one who hates a bolting plant to go to waste! Thanks and hugs to you all!

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