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.
Thunder Magic is real. Though it doesn’t sound quite so powerful and evocative, Lightning Magic is even more real. Thunder Magic and Lightning Magic each are summoned by the earthly spectacle known to many if not all as thunderstorm. It is a spectacle you’d be a fool not to know of, and you may think me foolish for speaking of such obvious truths in such ridiculous terms. And also anyway, what the hell does any of this have to do with farming or whatever it is we aim to aid you in? Worry not, in the paragraphs that follow I will explain all.
Many gardeners are wary of the power of thunderstorms, and the damage that punishing rains and wind can impose on young plants, destroying nubile beauties of tender leaf and shallow root system with tearing, drowning, and dislocation. This is a legitimate fear, but as one must pass through the fire to find profound glory most true, so too young plants that undergo the tribulation of thunderstorms are far more adept and worldly than their weeny peers who have not seen the great floods.
In terms of beneficence there is most obviously the monstrous deluge that these plants receive. Your irrigation system will never compare with the inundation of water into the soil that a great storm provides. If you do not have raised beds, there is a danger in this, and flooding is not to be taken lightly. If you do have raised beds however, your young plant children will be given a once in a lifetime opportunity to extend their roots deep into the soil and claim all the nutrients hiding in the far reaches of their dirt-laden homes, and their roots will remain sturdy and strong for the rest of their days.
Now let us speak of Lightning Magic. Lightning holds a most potent power, without which plants accessibility to Nitrogen would be darn near impossible. Leguminous plants and Lightning are the only things in nature which have the power to make nitrogen available to plant life in the soil, through a process called Nitrogen fixing. I won’t weigh you down with the science but this short and entertaining video surely will.
Though fixed nitrogen remains in the soil for a time, if it is not used by plants the bonds it has made with other elements do break, and nitrogen in the soil all too soon becomes unavailable to plants all over again. Young plants present in the soil during Lightning Magic have unprecedented access to Nitrogen, the most essential element to plant growth, and thereby are crazy strong and powerful and large. VIP baby.
Thunder Magic is a bit more disreputable, but strong magic all the same that should be wielded with confidence and moderation (because you totally have ultimate control over the weather). Probably you have heard of ozone, the ozone layer, ozone producing chemicals, ozone destroying chemicals, bad things about ozone, good things about ozone. Generally speaking, we do not want ozone hanging out down here with us, we want it high in the sky saving us from dangerous interstellar radiation, meteors, and alien invaders. When it’s brought low in the atmosphere, mostly through terrible things humans do, it causes the greenhouse effect, makes breathing hard, and just generally kills. Thunderstorms bring ozone down to the lower stratosphere in very light but potentially effective doses. This sounds terrible yeah? Thunder Magic rains down, humans die, plants die, everything dies.
It is not so. Things that you want to die, die, with the the power of Thunder Magic. Thunderstorm induced ozone is anti-fungal and anti-microbial, and as such a very powerful organic and dare I say permacultural solution for dealing with myriad scourges that want to eat your plants alive. A good thunderstorm will damage the teeming populations of fungi and microbes that are notorious for killing young plants whose immune systems are still in their early stages of development. Too much ozone is terrible for all living things, but a light touch of the stuff from Thunder Magic is a glorious cure-all tonic for what ails your young children. It levels the playing field and makes the dirt safe for humanity’s foodstuffs.
So. Plant your babies in the calm before the storm. Those that survive, which will probably be all of them, will sing your praises and tell the story of their harrowing adventure and your magnanimous gift to them for all time. Until you eat them.
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.
No it is not an as yet unheard by you sub sub-category of metal. This is not a music blog. I could see how you would maybe think it was a sub sub-category of metal that deserves a reference in a plant blog given it’s name, and given that there is every day new crazy science alluding to how certain music makes plants happier, or not at all happy.
I see that now and I understand how you could have made this assumption. You were wrong though. This is a dwelling on the inevitable death of all things Brassicae in your garden, an article about letting go and accepting the cruel transgressions inevitable to the circle of life in plants as in all things. So this is not an article about metal, but it’s definitely fucking metal, okay?
So let’s get all up in it. Your kale has millions of holes in it. our broccoli is shooting up flowers faster than you can harvest them. Your bok choi turned purple and won’t get any bigger than your fist. They want to die. All of them want to die and it’s important that you know this and it’s even more important that you accept that just this once it’s not really your fault.
These plants were not built for the oppressive heat of our mid-Spring southern climate. They are doing everything they can to return to the earth and do some good where there is good to be done. The Brassicae want to be part of a less cruel world, immediately. You probably won’t want to be here come August either.
These plants let down their natural defenses and let the caterpillars at them. This is why there are a million holes in your greens. It is the same with Chard. You will not win. It is time to say goodbye. You have slowly torn the limbs from your baby, your captive and your provider for too many months and it can no longer take the strains and rigors of this kind of life, if it can even be called that. It begged for the caterpillars to come and take it. Your Brassicae has suffered at your hands long enough. It gave and gave and gave and now it just wants to go. Say a prayer and say your goodbyes, for this is the end.
Others will intelligently go to seed. It will feel premature to you, but they know their time is come and want the next generation to follow the dreams they never had the courage to pursue. They want their genes to conquer the future. For you this means the plant will taste bad and the leaves will wither away and there will soon be nothing but hundreds of blueprints for the future waiting for you to nurture them.
Perhaps some of your greens have not sent out their suicidal pheromones to the insects of their micro-climatic universe, but doubtless they do not look incredible now. Am I right? Perhaps they simply droop. You want to give them more water, you want to see them perk up. And if you give them more water they will, but this is not sustainable. If you forget them for more than a couple of days, you will see that. It is too late for them. Harvest what you can and let the rest die a peaceful death.
Some of your offspring may be discolored. Perhaps they are yellow, perhaps they are purple (and they weren’t born to be purple). Either way it is because they are no longer getting the nutrients they count on to survive. This is again because they’ve essentially lost the will to live. The are so sad they can’t even will themselves to go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter jelly sandwich. We’ve all been there, no? Again it is simply their time. You must let it be.
Now is a time for another breed. The Brassicae may reign again come September, but meantime you must let your beans, squash and melons rule the dirt piles. Also prepare for the billions of weeds that you will be violently murdering throughout the summer if you have any intention of continuing to garden in the same space in subsequent seasons.
New York was right, you will find no kale in New Orleans. Not now, not really. Go eat some Chee-Wees hippie.
So I just said all that stuff, but actually my Scotch Curled Kale is still ruling the universe. This stuff lives through everything all the time. Grow some.
Don't grow this.
Or this. See that tall guy to the left? He’s gone to seed. He went to seed a month ago. Don’t bother.
Nothing you grow now will look near as perfect as this head of lettuce.
Chard wants to freeze. It wants none of your sunshine. Don’t grow it
It’s tempting to let the sunshine, sleeveless shirts and long evenings of early Spring lull you into a universe of false belief and idolatry towards the fantastical gardening concepts of places farther north. There notions of short sleeves are within arms’ reach, yet still but a dream. Their litany preaches that daylight savings has come, the last frost date has passed, and we shall soon be allowed the opportunity to frolic in the public swimming pool, and as such it is clearly time to plant lettuce, but their litany is not ours, and if our garden is to thrive, it must be ignored.
Our Word comes from a lower place, a place where the heat rises and consumes all, all too soon. This, the deep South, is a place where the heat never truly leaves us, not even in the dead of winter. We had to wear jackets and gloves for maybe three weeks this winter, and those three weeks were non-consecutive to be sure. The northern gospel takes none of this into account when it preaches ‘Plant thy lettuces now, for the soil is only now tillable and the sun is only now letting us know we are not forgotten.’
The sun never forgot us here, and it will not forgive us if we try to plant the plants our northern kin are prepping their gardens for. Just as we hibernate in Summer when they hibernate in the Winter, the plants they put into the ground in the Spring we put in the ground in the Fall.
It is April First today. For many, for most, it is too late. Do not plant any of these leafy greens, or anything that reminds you of these leafy greens:
Why? You want to know why? These are plants that love sun and long hours, but they are also plants that love to make their babies get out in the world when the heat comes around. When the temperature starts to rise, these plants start to put their energy into producing flowers and therefore thereafter, seeds. When their energy goes that way, so too do their nutrients, and we are left with flimsy leaves that taste bitter and just plain less than the way we want them to. Shortly after everything starts tasting bad, it also starts dissipating, as the plants basically give up producing leaves at all. They don’t need to collect or store any new energy, they just need to put all that energy into giving birth. After this, they die. This is what bolting, or going to seed, is. Both terms are extremely self explanatory, but let’s delve for a moment, because we can.
When greens decide to produce seed, they very quickly shoot upward, growing easily five times the height they were when they were providing you with delectable leaves to chew on and swallow.
When greens go to seed, they become useless to us, as their greens get bitter and dissipate. Hence the expression, it’s all gone to seed. That shit has become useless to you. Duh.
So don’t plant any of those plants now, okay? Fortunately for you there are some leafy green, or at least leafy greenish things you can grow right now, that will provide you with delicious nutrition through the hottest days of the deep south summer if you start them from seed right now:
It’s a short list, but a dependable one. You probably won’t find seeds for any of these plants at your local garden center, but the internet can scratch your itches quite nicely.
This is mizuna that has bolted hard. It doesn’t even kind of look like its former self. This is the eventual fate of all greens, but why tempt the fates?
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.