You Win Some, You Lose Some in Gardening

July 10, 2010 § 4 Comments

Last week, the cilantro bolted.

When I first started learning about growing edibles, I thought this was a funny phrase. It called to mind an image of a plant uprooting itself and scuttling away in the middle of the night, leaving a trail of dirt and an empty hole in its wake.

However, I quickly learned that while plants do not “run away” physically, their growth can run away rapidly, and this is what “bolting” means in the gardening world. Plants, mostly vegetable or herbs, are said to bolt when their growth goes rapidly from being mostly leaf-based to being mostly flower- and seed-based. Most plants bolt due to hot weather. When the temperature rises to a degree at which the plant won’t survive, this flips a switch in the plant to produce flowers and seeds (that is, its next generation) as quickly as possible, and to abandon leaf growth almost completely.

Apparently, cilantro is known to bolt in hot weather. I didn’t know this when I purchased the seedling; I was only thinking about sprinkling the fresh leaves on home-made tacos and bowls of black beans cooked with jalapeno, onions and garlic. And while San Francisco isn’t known for being hot, we do have a few days where the mercury climbs to 80 and a plant in a black pot can get baked.

Once a plant has fully bolted, the plant is usually inedible, as the plant’s entire energy reserve is focused on producing the seeds, so the rest of the plant tends to become tough and woody as well as tasteless or even bitter. When I saw the cilantro shoot up feathery fronds on a thick, pinkish stalk, I tried a leaf and discovered for myself that it’s true: plants that have bolted taste bad.

Bolting cilantro

Ahh, well. I also found out that you can let the cilantro flower and go to seed, then harvest the seeds and use them for cooking or growing another cilantro plant. So I transplanted the cilantro to its own pot, and we’ll see if I can get a full life cycle out of it.

Cilantro flower buds

At the same time, the other flora residents in our garden are quite happy. The mesclun patch provided us another salad last night (very tasty with a Dijon vinaigrette made with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and olive oil) and seems to like its habitat of clay-ey and sandy soil.

The mint, as is its wont, is going crazy.

And the dahlias look ready to burst! The flower buds are growing, and you can see those petals preparing to make their debut in the world. I’m pretty excited that they are doing well, so far, in pots, as most folks grow them in the ground, I believe. I can’t wait to see what they look like. I only wish my mother-in-law were here to see them in person!


§ 4 Responses to You Win Some, You Lose Some in Gardening

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