😵 bolting, the heat, and reflections on farming 🚜
plus, resources on converting your lawn to wildflowers
Hello to all my friends out there, trying so hard to keep their little gardens alive, in the in-between spaces of our lives. 💙
Before we begin today, I’d like to give everyone a friendly reminder to always use “site:edu” when googling any of your gardening questions. 🙋🏻♀️ I am reading all kinds of wild things lately, and it is very easy to add this to your search and only pull up science-backed information from agricultural and academic institutions!
Secondly, I was on the news this week which is both adorable and hilarious to me. You can watch the clip here and learn a smidge bit about how to start a “late garden” in June or July. (By the way - if you are in Zone 7 ish and haven’t started at all, Early September is PRIME TIME for starting a garden and I will write about that soon.)
V cute and v fun - thank you WXII for having me. <3
Thirdly, today’s newsletter is going to be ultra short because this heat —and this week— has zapped me mentally and emotionally.
Amongst many things, I am personally having a very hard time with how I’ve taken food for granted my entire life, and never thought about all the people breaking their bodies to make it easily accessible to me despite 100 degree temps, hailstorms, pesticide drift, fires, and more. It is true that all of my algorithms are now farmer/grower-centric, and this means that I am seeing the impacts of climate change at a rate that is hard to bear.
I see all the stories about how thousands of cattle just died in Kansas from an unprecedented heat event, how people in California are losing their home crops because there’s only enough water to run your hose for 15 minutes on Saturdays, the impending fertilizer crisis, and women just like me who are losing their life savings because of flooding and tornadoes that their city has never experienced before.
I don’t mean to be a bummer, but for as often as I hear, “freedom isn’t free,” I wish we were talking about how food isn’t free.
In 1900, the average American family spent 40% of their income on food. In 1950, it dropped to under 30%. By 2013 it had plummeted to 10% and as of this year, we are spending only 5% of our income on groceries. (But we do spend 12% of our income on medical expenses now.)
Note: It is true that we are also living through the largest inequality gap in America’s history, that 1/3 of Americans do not make a living wage, and that it’s important to remember this fact when we talk about averages of income spent and how differently it impacts those who are lucky to Have Enough Money.
But my point is this: Milk was never meant to be $2 a gallon. Strawberries shouldn’t have ever been “cheap.” We weren’t supposed to be getting butter for a dollar, ground beef for $2/lb, or 4-for-$1 bell peppers.
I am not educated enough on this subject and need to write about bolting — so I will stop — but as you see food prices around you increase, or you decide between the grocery store and your local farmer, close your eyes and feel the soles of your feet in your shoes on the ground and remember that good food is truly one of the only things you need and it is worth it.
In the future, good farmers will keep us alive and global supply chains will not. Invest in them and invest in yourself, even if you have to cancel your streaming services and subscription apps to do so.
🥬 What is bolting and how can we slow it? 🥬
Okay! This is affecting all our gardens currently, so let’s talk about it.
All plants experience a lifecycle: Germination > growth of leaves & stems > reproduction. To reproduce, most of our garden plants create a flower, and after the flower dies, it produces a seed.
At the beginning, plants put a lot of energy into creating leaves, roots, and stems, requiring a good amount of nitrogen. And then, once something about the weather/daylight signals that “it’s time,” it switches most of its activity away from growing leaves and into growing a flower and seeds. Some plants have an in-between step: Their flower grows a fruit which contains the seed. (Flowering and fruiting requires less nitrogen and more phosphorus and potassium.)
Plants that do not fruit (like radishes, lettuce, kale, herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, spinach, etc) take flowering as a BIG DEAL. A flower means, “we’re almost done living! Shut off other activity! Get bitter! We’ve almost reached the finish line!”
Lucky for us, we can typically cut off a bud and circumvent this process.
Bolting is just a fancy word for these non-fruiting plants when they start the reproduction cycle by flowering.
Heat is notorious for triggering reproduction, because the hottest part of the year is usually at the end of summer, right before temperatures drop, and the plant needs to finish producing seeds before a freeze. When it gets hot early, it can cause a lot of our greens to bolt too early - which is a real bummer.
This is what you can do to help mitigate early bolting:
Keep your plants’ roots cool. Mulch, keep them moist, and don’t put them near the very edge of a raised bed or in a pot that is too small.
Avoid planting your salad greens and cool season herbs in steel raised beds. Steel beds heat up fast and retain heat for a long time. This heats the soil and keeps it warm.
Cut off buds when you see them - but make sure you aren’t cutting the buds off of something that’s going to fruit!!
Buy heat-tolerant, bolt-resistant varieties of greens. Here is a nice list from Johnny Seeds.
Plant your greens, brassicas, mustards and herbs in “full sun” places [6-8 hours] but not “all day sun” places [sunrise to sundown] if possible.
And the most important advice: Plant during the right season! If your broccoli, cauliflower or lettuce bolted immediately and you didn’t get to eat it, don’t worry. These all do wonderfully in the fall, and you should try again starting ~early/mid September. Greenhouses sell everything in the spring/early summer, even if they aren’t meant to be planted at that time — so choose carefully and break your garden into Spring Garden, Summer Garden, and Fall Garden. :)
Getting Rid Of Your Lawn 🚜
My friend Abby is in the middle of writing a multi-part series on lawns and how and why you should replace them with something else. I highly recommend reading them for education, inspiration, and some how-to advice.
If you keep hearing about how grass isn’t great but you don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it, read them. Or pick up one of these books she’s been reading on the subject: Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, The Humane Gardener, 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants, The Bee-Friendly Garden, Gardening with Native Plants of the South.
Converting lawns to wildlife sanctuaries, native perennial flower gardens, and wildflower patches is one my primary end goals. I would love to offer this service to people; I field so many questions about it currently and if you have advice/experience, leave it in the comments. <3
PS. If your tomatoes are struggling, read my past newsletter on tomatoes!
“When we told our youth that farming was a lowly aim compared with becoming teachers, doctors, or lawyers, what were we thinking? We need teachers for just a few of life’s decades. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a doctor only once or twice a year, and a lawyer even less. But we need farmers every single day of our lives, beginning to end, no exceptions. We forgot about that for awhile, and the price was immense. Slowly, we’re coming back to our senses. Be patient with us. We need you.” - Barbara Kingsolver, Letters To A Young Farmer