The expression ‘gone to seed’ has a very explicit meaning. In the case of most common edible plants, once they start making seed, they become fairly useless to us. They will put all of their energy and nutrients into making their genetics go on. Their leaves become tiny and gross, as collecting energy from the sun is no longer a priority and all the of their nutrients (which translate to flavor and nutrients for us), head upwards to where seeds are being made. All new cell growth is concentrated towards the act of upward mobility, so that when seeds are dispersed by the plant they can do it from on high. Seeds will have a wider broadcast this way. Plants aren’t dummies. This is called bolting, and your cute little ball of lettuce can turn into a four foot tall tower of inedible doom in a matter of days when it is ready to release its children unto the world.
Yet there is hope for humanity in a plant’s death by seed. There are a multitude of hopes in fact, and I will share a pithy few examples of such to brighten your day and perhaps realign your disposition towards the darkness that is too much summer heat and sunshine.
Most obviously, when a plant goes to seed you can collect that seed so as to make more plants for your own future alimentary enjoyment. This is easy. Just wait for some flowers to bloom and die and collect that which remains. This varies, sometimes drastically, from plant to plant of course, but the basic premise remains always the same. In the case of most Spring and Summer vegetables we are waiting for the plants to go to seed just so we can eat them. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, beans, all the typically edible bits of these are the plants seed casing.
Sometimes when plants go to seed all is not entirely lost. Some plants, especially herbs, will not significantly change in structure or taste when they reproduce. Herb flavors are so strong to begin with that most tongues will not be able to discern a huge difference in taste when herbs start to produce seed. They do in fact get a bit more bitter or bland as a general rule, but in relative terms it is as nothing. So keep eating your herbs even as they go to seed. A lot of herbs also grow pretty easily from seed. I tend to let them broadcast their own seed in my gardens rather than harvest the seed. It makes them happier and generally whatever seed ends up germinating become exceptional young things once they mature
Some plants provide flowers that are beautiful and delicious. You should eat these and disrupt the natural plant propagation process as often as possible, because it feels really good to screw up nature’s way for the sake of beauty. Cilantro flowers are amazing. Sweet pea flowers are like candy bars, but prettier. Squash blossoms can make you rich if you know the right chef. Don’t let that plant go quietly into the dark night, cannibalize every single last bit of it and revel in the fact that you wasted not.
Some seeds and seed pods that are not typically thought of as edible are actually super edible and pretty delicious too. As I said before, half the stuff we eat is seed pod material, like beans, tomatoes, melons, and so on forever. But have you ever eaten radish seed pods? They’re good! Really good! If you don’t pick your cilantro flowers in time, they will become fresh coriander. Green coriander is a hyper-potent delicacy. Try it. One little seed will change a meal if not your life. Heck, try all your seed pods. The good ones are really good, the gross ones are not good at all, and maybe could kill you.
When plants go to seed, almost everything is lost, but not all. Don’t pull last season’s plants until you’ve milked them for every little piece of delicious they’ve got left, they will forgive you in the afterlife. Eventually.
It has come. The official last frost date for New Orleans in this our lord's year 2016 is February 19th.
Plant your tomatoes! Plant your Peppers! Plant Your Cucumbers! Plant your Basil! Plant whatever you want! You need fear the cold never again!
That’s what ‘they’ want you to think, that it’s all good, that everything’s under control and the powers that be control the weather just fine and you need never want for anything, especially not intuition or a regular and ever-adaptive analysis of your surroundings.
And they’re pretty much right. I listen to them. I heed the last frost date as gospel, fundamental, irrevocable, Truth.
I am a fool for doing so, but it is the eager heart of the gardener that beats in my chest and screams ecstacy into the heat of the Spring sun.
Frost dates are determined a year or more in advance by meteorologists, farmer almanac kooks, astrologists and other oracular future-casters of dubious scientific background, but they are by and large reasonably accurate. If you are not of a gambling nature it is best to wait a week or so after the frost date to actually get Spring plants and seeds in the ground, but as of my writing this it has been about a week, so you’re probably good to go without betting the farm at this juncture.
All this to say, frost dates are accurate but not that accurate. Pay attention to them but do as I say, not as I do. Approach the date with circumspection each and every year, then plant accordingly.
Meantime, presently, you’re in the clear. It’s Springtime in New Orleans. Let loose the heat loving plants upon your raised earth.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.