I had an interesting development in my mixed greens garden bed this week. My lettuce grew flowers. From the top of each plant were long stems with tiny buds. Every day is a new adventure in my garden, but this new growth threw me for a loop.
After some research, I realized my lettuce was bolting.
Bolting happens when lettuce rapidly produces flowers and seeds to ensure the next generation before it dies. It’s a plants last hurrah before eminent death. (So sad for my beautiful mixed greens!) I like how this article describes “bolting” as when a plant’s growth runs away. One day, you have more mixed greens than you can eat and the next, the plant stops producing and the remaining leaves turn bitter.
So why does this happen? Research says bolting happens when a plant faces environmental stress, such as high temperatures, or when the plant has reached the end of its life cycle.
Our temperature in Central Florida has been all over the place, so my plants may have been stressed out from the drastic changes in weather. Last week, I had to cover my plants from a frost and then it shot up into the eighties! (Typical February weather in Florida!) But, it could have also just been my plant’s time to bolt. I planted them on September 29 and they’ve been producing well ever since.
Here are some pictures of different mixed green varieties bolting.
What should I do if my mixed greens begin to bolt?
As soon as you see a flowering stalk from your lettuce, go ahead and pick a leaf to see if the lettuce still tastes okay. Bolting makes lettuce and mixed greens taste bitter. I sampled some leaves and they were still okay, so I harvested all the remaining leaves to eat.
After harvesting any remaining leaves that are edible, there is not much more you can do for a plant that is bolting. The end is near. You can go ahead and remove the plant to make garden space for your next crop or you can let the plants bolt longer and collect the seeds to plant next year.
While I was sad to find out that my mixed greens were at the end of their life, I enjoyed an endless supply of free organic mixed greens for 5 months. I’ll just have to rely on my spinach and kale until it’s time to plant mixed greens again. 🙂
Have you ever heard of bolting? (Or am I the only one who learned about bolting this week?!) 🙂