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parsley

Vegetable Garden

What does it mean when your vegetables are ‘bolting’?

September 29, 2012
onion flower

Onion (Allium) Flower

When you’re involved in gardening it’s very easy to forget that simple terms we use on a day-to-day basis might as well be written or spoken in another language to non-gardeners. A question I’ve been asked a few times recently is “What’s a bolting vegetable?”, followed by “Why does it do that?” and “Can I stop it happening?”. As several of my plants are currently bolting, or in other terms ‘going to seed’, it seems like a good time to explain.

What is Bolting?

Visions of carrots uprooting, donning Lycra and sprinting across fields aside, the term bolting is used to describe plants that are starting to flower prematurely – or in other words before we’d like them to. Many plants can be affected – this year I’ve seen lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale, chard and onions produce flowers much earlier than we would have liked.

Parsley Flowers

Parsley Flowers

What causes Bolting?

Vegetable plants will turn to seed automatically when their life cycle is coming to an end – it’s their natural state to want to reproduce and spread their seed before they die. However, if they become stressed they may produce flowers much earlier.

Another reason is that some plants (radish, lettuce and spinach for instance) are sensitive to the lengthening daylight hours and will take the opportunity to start producing flowers.

How do plants become ‘stressed’?

So what causes our onions to throw out long stems with pretty pompom flowers on top or our kale to develop delicate yellow flowers that the bees and hoverflies adore?

Unsettled weather conditions are a prime cause of stress that will cause bolting and 2012 gave us a good example.

Chive Flower

Chive Flower

We experienced a mild winter which continued into early spring. This was followed by a couple of weeks of lovely warm weather at a time many of us were sowing our seeds – if memory serves me correctly the end of May was a bit of scorcher (by Irish standards) and under normal circumstances would have been the prime direct sowing time for many plants. However, by early June the warm days continued (albeit quite damp) but night-time temperatures plunged, almost to zero on a few occasions. These fluctuations in temperature would have been enough to stress developing seedlings.

Another stress factor might include dry soil – a result of warm days and erratic watering which can be avoided once you’re aware of it.

Kale Flowers

Kale Flowers

Can we stop bolting?

We can certainly delay it. As soon as you spot a thick stem starting to appear in the middle of your onion plant, snap it off – if you allow it to continue it will put all its energy into producing a flower and not into developing an onion bulb as can be seen in the example below. If you notice kale developing flowers rather than leaves, snap them off too.

An onion that has been allowed to flower ~ at the expense of a large bulb

An onion that has been allowed to flower ~ at the expense of a large bulb

You can buy bolt resistant seeds for vegetables that are prone to it – there’s a popular variety of beetroot for instance called ‘Boltardy’.

Starting seedlings off in modules and planting them out once temperatures have settled often helps (although this year may have proved the exception).

Ensure your soil is in good condition. If it is, your plants will be stronger, grow faster and you’ll be harvesting them earlier, often before they’ve had a chance to become weather stressed or succumbed to the lengthening days.

Is there anything else I can do?

It might be worth remembering that many vegetable flowers are not only beautiful but edible too. There’s a lovely article here in the State-by-State Gardening Newsletter that has images of some very pretty vegetable flower arrangements. Here’s an example of one I like that is totally edible containing flowers from kale, fennel, verbena, rocket, peas, onion, beet and chard:

Edible Bouquet

Photo credit: Cindy Shapton, www.cindyshapton.com

Did you notice an increase in bolting this year or have you made flower arrangements from vegetable flowers? I’m heading out now to pick a few kitchen garden flowers for my table that I mightn’t have thought of before. If you can’t afford to buy cut flowers on a regular basis, perhaps you need look no further than your own garden or hedgerow…

 

Food & Drink

Grow Your Own Parsley Wine. Here’s the Recipe.

February 7, 2010
parsley wine recipe

parsley wine

Yes, parsley wine! As more and more of us turn to the land, growing our own and foraging in hedgerows, many are dusting down brewing paraphernalia that’s been buried in attics and the back of sheds and they’re making their own wine and beers

I still remember as a child, watching my Dad straining grapes and siphoning different liquids through muslin as he made his own wine. Unfortunately I was never allowed to try it so to this day have no idea if his methods were successful. Perhaps that’s why, when we found ourselves with an abundance of Italian flat leafed parsley growing in the polytunnel, we turned to the old wine making recipes (well there’s only so much sauce one can eat)…

As a result of trialing different compost we had an abundance of Italian flat leafed parsley seedlings littered around our house and I was left scratching my head wondering what to do with them.

Parsley wine recipe

Eventually the polytunnel went up and suddenly there were lots of empty beds just waiting to be planted. At last, a home for my little plants.  I placed them amongst the marigolds and tomatoes and left them to it. Within about a month they’d quadrupled in size and we realised very quickly that one would have been enough to feed our family, never mind twenty! So, at the end of July, we unearthed, washed and sterilised the demijohns and went harvesting.  I picked just over 1.1 kg (2 ½ lbs) of leaves and stems and used the following method to make the wine (I know that sounds a lot but with just a couple of productive plants it’s easy to collect):

Parsley Wine

 

Ingredients

1.1kg parsley
9 ltr boiling water
60g fresh root ginger
4 oranges
4 lemons
2.8 kg caster sugar
wine yeast
Tear the parsley into pieces and place into a large (sterilised) fermenting bucket, cover with the boiling water and leave for 24 hours to brew, covered with a tea towel.
  • Strain into a large pan (I had to do this in two batches) and add the fresh root ginger, rinds of the oranges and lemons and boil for 20 minutes.
  • Put the caster sugar into the brewing bucket and pour the liquor on top, stirring until it has dissolved. Add the juice of the oranges and lemons.
  • Leave it to cool then add some wine yeast (this was tricky to buy and in fact we couldn’t find wine yeast as such so had to settle for a general yeast that claimed to be suitable for home brewing. We’ve since found a home brewing website for our next efforts). Leave in the bucket for two weeks and cover until the mad fermentation process has died down.
  • Strain the liquor into demijohns (I used two for this quantity), fit with airlocks and place in the hot press for nine months. Bottle then store for another three before sampling.

I’d been collecting wine bottles with screw cap lids in readiness so washed and sterilised ten ready for the brew, which was siphoned in to them.

wine bottles

Initial tasting was sweet but hopeful – it tasted like wine and was crystal clear at any rate!

After the recommended waiting period (yes we really did manage to wait), we popped the first bottle. It was surprisingly drinkable! Very sweet as mentioned with a definite gingery flavour and quite strong too. We never did check the gravity (its % of alcohol)   but it never failed to bring a smile or two after a glass.

Kale - A Hardy Vegetable and Not Just for the Livestock

Have you ever made wine from your garden produce or hedgerows? I’m on the lookout now for favourites as we’ve since been trawling through the old books to see what we can grow and brew next…

How to Grow Parsley

If you find yourself with a packet of parsley seeds it might be useful to know how to sow them… Don’t worry if you don’t have a large garden either as parsley grows well in containers as long as you remember to water the plants in hot weather.

Parsley needs warm temperatures to germinate (burst their seed shell and start to grow) so is best started off in newspaper pots or seed modules indoors around March time. Sow three or four seeds in each pot or module that you’ve added multipurpose or seedling compost to and have dampened (not swamped) with tap water. The seeds are tiny so need light to germinate. Make sure you don’t bury the seeds too deeply but just barely cover them with a layer of compost. Place the pots in a warm, bright windowsill and wait. If the compost looks dry, dampen carefully. Don’t worry if you see nothing happening for a while, parsley can take up to a month to germinate! Once the seedlings have grown, remove the weakest leaving one strong plant in each pot to develop.

Around June or July as temperatures have increased, the plants should be ready to go outside. You’ll need to acclimatise them first by bringing them back indoors at night for a few days (known as hardening off). After that it’s safe to transplant your seedlings into the soil. Make sure lots of well-rotted manure or compost has been added to the soil they’ll be growing in before you transplant them. If you’ve grown them in newspaper pots you can bury the pots, which will cause very little root disturbance. If not, be gentle with the roots as you remove them from the modules as they don’t really like to be disturbed.

Having said all that, if you’re not in a hurry for it, you can sow some seeds directly into fertile soil around July time, covering lightly and wait and see what happens. You wont be able to harvest the leaves perhaps until the following year using this method, but it’s far less fiddly if you’re new to gardening!

Good luck and give me a shout if you have any questions.