As I stare out my home-office window, I can see two things happening in my garden – things not growing and things growing completely out of control. As much as we try to have any sort of control over what we’re growing, whether it’s roses, delphiniums or red peppers, the truth is it’s mainly out of our hands.
And by three months into the growing season, we’re starting not to care. We get lazy and end up with messy gardens. The tomatoes start to get yellowed leaves, the phlox is covered in powdery mildew and the lettuce has bolted to the point of being 2’ high. This is where being a lazy gardener comes in handy.
Let me backtrack for a second and explain what bolting is. Certain plants, as you probably know, grow well in hot weather, and other plants grow well in cold weather. Tomatoes, peppers, squash and zucchini are all examples of plants that thrive in the heat and shrivel up in the cold. Kale, cabbage, broccoli and greens, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. They thrive in cooler weather and die in the heat.
When the weather gets too warm, these plants, and it’s especially noticeable with lettuces, sense their growing conditions aren’t optimal and get the urge to reproduce before they die. So they “bolt”, meaning they grow a tall stalk and put out flowers. These flowers then turn into seeds or seed pods. The lettuce has accomplished its goal. Before it has died, it has produced seeds for the next generation.
Vegetables that have bolted often turn bitter and unpleasant to eat. So once the plants have bolted, a lot of gardeners (if they aren’t of the lazy variety) pull up their plants and throw them into the garbage or the compost pile. This is where being your true lazy self puts you a step above those overachievers. If you just leave your bolting lettuce where it is and let it flower and go to seed, you have a whole new batch of seeds for planting right now for a fall crop.
Some greens, such as kale and the mizuna, set out pods along their stems.
The flowers of other greens turn into fluff, like a dandelion, with the seeds in amongst the fluff. Either way, you have two choices once they have “set seed”. Either leave the plants in the ground to dry out completely, or pull them up roots and all and let them sit in a spot out of direct sun for a week or so.
Once the plants have dried out, you can pick off the pods. They’ll practically fall apart in your hands with the cured seeds inside.
Just keep your seeds in a regular paper envelope and write down what variety of seed it is on the outside.
Drying the seeds
Text and photos by Karen Bertelsen
Karen Bertelsen is a Gemini Award nominated television host who has appeared on some of Canada's major networks including HGTV, W Network, Slice and MuchMoreMusic. She started the blog The Art of Doing Stuff (www.theartofdoingstuff.com) as a creative outlet for her writing and endless home projects. The Art of Doing Stuff now receives over half a million views per month and has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening magazines.