Harvesting Lettuce Seed

Well, I finally got around to harvesting the lettuce seed from the Romaine lettuce blooms I had cut and left to dry. For anyone wanting to attempt to save seeds from your lettuce, as I have mentioned in my previous post about saving seeds, you must let the plants bolt. The lettuce blooms will eventually die and turn to a white fuzz much like a dandelion.

It can then be cut and left to dry out or mulched back into the ground as some gardeners do, allowing it to self-sow.  I found harvesting the seeds to be quite easy, but very messy as the white fluff goes everywhere. All I had to do was run my fingers through the dried out blooms and the seeds dropped, but so did the fluff. And, I found it difficult to separate the fluff from the seed. I even tried an old mesh strainer which actually helped cut down on the fuzzy stuff, but some of it still got through into the container. Lettuce seed 2

I am storing the seed in paper packets in a storage container kept in a cool dark space in the back hall.  Anyhow, I now have a good supply of lettuce seed, which if I need next season, I can use. I tossed the leftover stems back out into the garden so it will self-sow. I am looking forward to seeing how many lettuce plants appear in fall, and I have plenty of seed for future planting and for sharing.

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“I’m strong to the finish, ’cause I eats me Spinach”

Who doesn’t love spinach? Well, many kids for one; yours truly included. I remember hearing, “Popeye likes spinach. Just try it. You’ll like it too.” Of course, I don’t remember it being fresh sautéed spinach. As I recall, it came from a can just like Popeye ate, salty and slimy. Today, however, I love spinach. I love it so much, I started growing my own.

Spinach is such a versatile leafy green. You can eat it fresh, steamed, or sautéed. You can even make baked spinach chips the same way you make kale chips (see my recipe at the end of this article). And best of all, spinach is packed full of vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well as iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium.

This dark leafy green is a cool weather plant, so seeds can be sown in early spring and in the fall, even grown through winter, particularly if you use cold frames or row covers. During last winter, I did just that. Spinach is a cold-hardy plant that can tolerate cold snaps as low as 20 degrees, so the earlier you can plant in spring, the longer you will enjoy this nutritious green.

By the time summer heat approaches, spinach will begin to bolt. Here in the southwest, my spinach bolted in early May. I allowed it to bloom in order to harvest the seeds. It’s the first time I ever collected spinach seeds. Of course, I researched beforehand as I am learning how to save seeds from my crops. Did you know that spinach is dioecious? What does that mean? Well, basically it means that spinach produce male plants and female plants as opposed to monoecious plants that have both male (stamen) and female (pistil) flower parts on a single plant. While both individual male and female spinach plants produce flowers, as nature would have it, only the female plant will produce seeds.

spinach 2

spinach

Once the plant dies, you can start harvesting seed. I plucked them from the bed as they were dying and placed them in a paper sack to continue the drying out process. Once dried and the seeds are no longer green, it’s time to harvest the seeds.

spinach seed

spinach seed 2

It is a tedious process plucking the seed as several can be fused together. However, I was able to collect a fair amount of seed for the next planting season.

spinach seed 3

These will go into the ground come September. I look forward to another bountiful crop.

Now for that light and crispy spinach chip recipe:

Ingredients:

1 to 2 cups of spinach (depends on how much you want to make)

1 to 1 ½ TBS Olive oil (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Place spinach on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. 
Drizzle with oil and with your hands gently toss to make sure spinach leaves are 
evenly coated. 
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange leaves so they do not overlap.   
Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Now, if you’re really health conscious and want less fat, skip the oil. But, that’s not why I do not use oil on my spinach or kale chips. Without the oil, the spinach chips provide a lighter, airy crunch. You can still add salt and pepper to enhance flavor or substitute salt for garlic salt or any other spices you happen to enjoy. But, what I like about not using the oil is that the chips last longer. You can store them in a container to eat at a later time or crumble them over soups, baked potatoes or add to smoothies. It’s such a versatile food. That’s why I love me spinach.

So, eat you some spinach y’all!

Garden Update

Today is the summer solstice, and it certainly feels that summer is upon us in the southwest. That means many of my cold weather plants are winding down. I’ve bid adieu to my lettuce and most of the kale, and the snow peas seem to be wrapping things up.  At the same time, the tomatoes are gearing up as are the green beans, cucumbers, yellow squash, cantaloupe and watermelon. I just have to mention that the monster tomato volunteer in the cantaloupe patch is covered  in grape-like green tomatoes. I surmise this volunteer is a grape tomato plant while the other volunteers have yet to produce. And, this is the first year to plant corn, and today I spied a baby ear. So far, the summer veggies are on their way to a bountiful future.

“Earth Laughs in Flowers”

“Earth laughs in flowers” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I do believe Emerson is right, for the garden brings a smile to my lips this day in response to their robust laughter. I just had to share some of the gorgeous pops of color emerging among and around the vegetable beds. Happy companions indeed!

Gone to Seed

As I mentioned in another post, I’m on a mission to have a truly self-sustainable garden. This involves saving as many seeds from this year’s growing season as possible.  In the past, I’ve only saved what I consider the easier seed such as cucumber, squash, pepper and tomato. I’m also incorporating more perennials like radicchio (Italian chicory), oregano, rosemary, thyme, and asparagus and allowing self-sowing crops such as Chinese cabbage, kale, arugula, spinach, lettuce, basil, dill, parsley, to name a few, to bolt or as they say, go to seed. With this in mind, I’ve had to choose specific spaces in the garden that will be devoted to these crops. I will admit that I am somewhat nervous as I’ve always practiced crop rotation. So, I am not sure how this will all play out. I know I can still rotate these self-sowing crops if need be. But, the reasons for doing all this is to save seed for future planting and share with other gardeners, as well as minimize my cost and effort. I will say it’s been a true learning experience. One thing I’ve had to overcome is the rather scraggy, homily appearance these plants take on when they bolt. While I don’t practice row planting in the traditional sense, say like colonial Williamsburg style,  I do companion plant heavily. I strive for practical combinations for a pleasing, natural, symbiotic space. These bolting plants do distract from the visual appeal I strive for. However, on the positive side, their blooms attract plenty of pollinators, so there’s a trade-off that is certainly worth it.

If you’ve ever seen romaine lettuce or kale bolt, it’s not attractive. Lettuce grow into tall  stalks with spindly off-shoots that produce little yellow flowers. When these flowers start to die, they produce a white fuzz similar to a dandelion. That is when I chop the flowered tops and set in a paper bag to dry out.  Once dried out, I will retrieve the tiny lettuce seeds, hoping most will have dropped to the bottom of the sack.

Kale, arugula, and Chinese cabbage are a little easier (see first set of photos above). These plants grow long seed pods on their wiry stocks along with petite, fragrant flowers. Once the seed pods grow long and flowers and plant start dying, I chop the stalks down and place in a spot to dry out. I have completely harvested all of the arugula and Chinese cabbage this way. The dried pods pop open with the slightest pinch of the fingers. It is messy. Or it might be, I have not perfected my seed harvesting technique because now  Chinese cabbage and arugula have emerged in the cracks and edges of my patio. And, these awesome self-seeding leafy greens are popping up again in the same spot their mother plants lived.

There’s still a couple of kale plants growing seed pods and lettuce blooming out. So, I  await impatiently, checking the garden each day to see if I can yank them out to make space for neighboring veggies but also to remove what I deem an eye sore. I suspect any lettuce seed that drops may not sprout until fall, only because lettuce truly is a cool weather plant, but we shall see. I am lucky because I reside in plant hardiness zone 8 which means I get to experience two growing seasons. So as soon as the spring planting is harvested, I replant many of the cool weather varieties in August and September to enjoy their bounty by November and December.  However, I actually practice year round gardening with the use of row covers. So, it will be interesting to see how these self-sown offspring will fare as the summertime heat approaches. I’m hoping by autumn to exert less energy and enjoy a more self-sustaining garden experience. I will definitely follow-up with a post covering the results of this little experiment.