Seed sow time

(Question)

Hi, I live in Toronto and want to sow Heirloom Lettuce, Spinach and Arugula seed this weekend. Is there a chance they bolt before becoming mature? Thanks.

(Answer)

Having fresh lettuce, spinach and arugula in the garden is such a treat. But yes they are all prone to bolting, also known as ‘running to seed’ which can make the produce bitter. This is when a plant suddenly starts growing flower stems, stopping growth of the vegetable itself and happens because a plant’s primary job and part of its lifecycyle is to produce seeds to reproduce itself. Lettuce, spinach and arugula are considered cool weather crops, best grown ahead of or after the hot weather, and their instinct is to stop growing and start reproduction when the weather warms up or the days become longer. Basically it is because when the plant becomes shocked or stressed, it goes in to protection mode.

So there are some things that can aid in avoiding stress for these plants. First thing is to practice something called ‘Cut and Come Again’ where you cut off the outer leaves on a regular basis, leaving the centers to continue growing. This fools the plant in to thinking that it is immature and not ready to seed yet. Secondly, don’t stress them in their growing conditions, in other words give them the right light, moisture and nutrient environments. So in the spring it is okay to plant these crops in full sun but as it gets sunnier and hotter, ensure that  you plant your lettuce and other crops where they will be shaded by taller plants as the season progresses. Regular watering will also make the plant happy and avoid shock. Finally you might consider looking for varieties of seed that are ‘bolt resistant’ in other words they have been formulated to last longer in the warmer weather.

If you are unsuccessful with your crops at this time of year, know that you have a second opportunity to plant them mid to late summer when the growing conditions are more favourable.

Good luck and I hope you get to enjoy salad greens all summer long.