Friday, July 18, 2014

The Benefits of Bolting

Queen Composter shares reasons to leave edible plants go to seed.

We are approaching the dog days of summer and in the heat many vegetables are starting to flower. I am always surprised when I see people pulling up all their plants that have bolted, to make way for new plants. Of course once some plants have bolted their greens are bitter to taste and we need to remove them so that we can have a continuous supply of plants to eat. But those plants that have flowered are great for the garden. I would like to make an argument for intentionally letting some vegetables flower and go to seed.

Seed Saving

Leaving plants to go to seed, and then collecting the seeds, may not be on the list for novice gardeners, but I believe that it is important. It provides free seeds for subsequent years' gardens, which is always a good thing. It also preserves a diverse living history of plants so that we can maintain and grow plants that we do not typically see in the grocery store. There are many other benefits to seed saving, but an important one is that it takes the control of seeds out of the hands of corporations such as Monsanto and their terminator seeds.

Kale seed pods drying.

Encouraging Pollinators

Having flowers dotted throughout my garden is a boon for pollinators, which is also great for my mid summer garden. I have lots of squash and cucumbers that still require pollination to be productive, so I am thrilled to see all the native bees, honey bees and bumble bees flitting from plant to plant. I can also feel good for providing a good habitat for pollinators.

Honey bee on my cilantro, which was a volunteer in
this location amongst my squash.

Encouraging Good Garden Predators

The more I have growing in my garden, including flowers, the more chance I have of attracting good garden predators to my garden, which is wonderful natural pest control. My carrot flowers are teeming with soldier beetles, a ferocious feeder of aphids, and every day I find ladybugs throughout my garden, usually near flowering plants.

Not only are there native bees all over my carrot flowers,
but the soldier beetles enjoy hanging out here too.

Edible Flowers

Unbeknownst to many people, there are numerous flowers that are edible. My personal favourites are marigolds and nasturtiums, but cilantro flowers and arugula flowers are also quite delicious with a flavour similar to the plant. I always get oohs and ahhs when I include edible flowers in my salads.

I'm cheating with this photo: the petals are marigolds,
but I do enjoy using other edible flowers such as cilantro.

Providing Shade

Vegetables that have gone to seed benefit the plants around them because they become more full and thereby give shade to less sun tolerant plants such as leafy greens, which will prevent them from bolting if we want them to continue to provide food for us.

This bolted bok choy is providing cooling
shade for my leafy lettuce growing underneath.

They Look Pretty

If none of the above are strong enough reasons to let some plants bolt, then the simple reason that they are pretty should be enough. It makes me happy to see plants come full circle and end as they should.

The bok choy flowers in bloom.


Green Bean said...

Bravo!! I often let things bolt out of sheer laziness but I had never thought of eating the flowers or of them shading plants growing beneath them. Both big benefits. And, hey, your carrot flowers are pink!! Mine are always white. Wonder why that it is? Red carrot variety?

Christy said...

Haha, yes laziness is my preferred gardening method for sure. We are kindred garden spirits. And an agrologist I spoke to recently confirmed that it is often the best path to take, phew!

The pinky-purple carrot flowers are probably from my rainbow carrots (purple and red) but I also have lots of white ones as well. I just think these ones are so pretty.


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