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Posts Tagged ‘weather’

Weird Lettuce in my Small Kitchen Garden

Bolting Lettuce

Bolting is a lettuce plant’s attempt to reproduce. Until it bolts, the plant tends to maintain a tight leaf bunch: head lettuce wraps its leaves tightly around itself and leaf lettuces remain relatively compact

In summer heat, leaf and head lettuces bolt. That is, they develop stalks that rise out of the leaf mass and produce flowers. While that stalk may contain delicious-looking leaves, the leaves in general become bitter and unpleasant to eat. Usually, when my lettuce plants bolt, I toss them in the compost heap.

The weather in 2009 has confused many a small kitchen garden. Mine (hardiness zone 5b/6a in Central Pennsylvania) has been particularly confused. In Your Home Kitchen Garden, I wrote a post about the awkward transition of my garden from spring crops of peas, lettuce, and spinach to my summer crop of winter squash. As well, I’ve joked quite a bit with gardening friends about weird stuff the weather has wrought.

For example, I’ve stated repeatedly that unusual amounts of rain have given some of my tomato and squash plants trench foot. Trench foot is a very uncomfortable deterioration of the skin of your feet. You get trench foot by standing for extended periods in water – usually cold water. Of course my plants don’t have trench foot, but if there’s a horticultural equivalent of trench foot, my plants have it.

Did my lettuce bolt in June’s heat only to unbolt in July’s unseasonable cold? I suppose not, but the head made an amusing conversation piece, and a terrific salad.

Hot, Cold, Hot, Cold, Hot

About when I started planting back in March, we had unseasonable heat; I was concerned that spring crops would dry out, and I was hopeful of planting summer crops early. The heat lasted only a week, and then it became brisk. April was never warm… and May also was cool; we had frost in late May!

All this cold made my spring crops stall; they did almost nothing until late May. Then, when the days finally warmed, things grew very quickly. We had terrific lettuce salads for four weeks before the plants started to bolt. In late June I had all but given up on the lettuce.

Lo, the temperature dropped! Yes, July nights got very cool—some even in the low 40s. Lettuce thrives in cool weather, and mine started to look more and more edible. I started joking that my lettuce plants were unbolting… and my gardening friends made offhanded remarks.

Lettuce Bolts in Summer Heat

Daytime heat for the past four days has been above 80F degrees. It seems crazy, but the lettuce that spent most of July unbolting is showing signs of re-bolting. So, today, for the first time in my life, I harvested a crisp, delicious head of Ithaca lettuce. In August!

Information about lettuce that’s actually useful to a kitchen gardener:

  • Good Lettuce Gone Bad: Bolting and Flowering | Vegetable Gardening … – Thank you – I did a search to find out why I had some bolting lettuce in my garden so soon, and this helped me to understand WHY the plant does what it does. In this case I think it probably had to do with a recent temperature rise …

  • bolting lettuce – i think bolting lettuce looks funny. this is a romain (or cos) variety, and you can see the flower stalk alone is about twice the size of the head of lettuce itself. i’m growing this on my roof this year to save seeds. …

  • Transplanting Lettuce – I have taken most of the bolting lettuce out and now I have some extra cups. Some of the bolting lettuce I am leaving in so I can see if I can get some seeds. I am not sure how successful I will be with seed collecting. …


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