Eartha Steward: Ins & outs of gardening |

Eartha Steward: Ins & outs of gardening

Eartha Stewardspecial to the daily
Special to the Daily/Jen Santry

Dear Eartha,”I’ve noticed my lettuce is wilting during these hot August days. When is it OK to harvest my greens and do I just pluck it out of the ground?”- Erick, TLC Garden plot holderI’m so glad you asked! I feel so lucky that I get to go to work and see how The Living Classroom gardeners continue to produce their own salad greens, snap peas, cabbage, and even tomatoes. In the last week or two, the compost has kicked in and the gardens have exploded! I think the hardest thing for a novice gardener can sometimes be the harvest. When do you pull the onions out of the ground? How big should the lettuce get before you eat it? At what time do you harvest the radishes? These are all questions that even to this day continue to run through my head throughout the summer. At the grocery store, we’re always looking for big juicy vegetables. As a gardener I’ve learned that bigger is not necessarily always better. In fact, baby lettuce, spinach, zucchini, and arugula are way more flavorful when they are first producing than when you allow them to age too long. A good farmer will create an intense relationship with his (or her) crop. Observation, tasting, smelling, touching… are all important steps in producing the perfect vegetable. Every crop is different and may change with environmental elements like sunlight, soil, and water. In June and July, we had a ton of cloudy and rainy days. Many crops were slow to mature because they lacked enough sunshine. Now that our August has been hot and sunny, vegetables are going to the opposite extreme – bolting, within days and even hours. Bolting is a common phenomenon that can complicate even the tiniest windowsill garden. I think of bolting as nature’s way of reminding the gardener to eat and plant seasonally. Bolting occurs in most leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, chard, and cabbage. When the greens get too much sunlight (and heat), they can produce flower stalks and a bitter (often inedible) taste. Once it hits your garden, many of your greens are destined for the compost bin. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see my garden overflowing with food. When its harvest time and you’re fighting a boltafest, break out the scissors and chop everything. You can always share it with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and the local food banks. Good news is that seeds are cheap and you can grow greens in a matter of weeks. With lettuce, I do prefer the chopping versus plucking method as it will often continue to produce leaves like a good haircut. I’d also like to touch on seasonality. This is when a garden journal can be handy. Take notes of your observations. Keep track of when your lettuce bolted this year so you are prepared to harvest a little earlier next time. You can also continue to cut lettuce and greens when they are small so you are maximizing taste, freshness, and food on your table. A good rule of thumb is to plant lettuce greens early in the season, give them a break during our hot months (late July to mid/late August), and then reseed them late August for a crop in cool September. When you aren’t growing the greens, substitute a heat loving vegetable in its place like squash or peppers. If you plant the greens and heat-loving (and often slow producing) vegetables at the same time in May or June, you’ll have the timing dialed. Of course, there’s always a bit of trial and error with every seed you sow.Finally, I just have to say that everyone should be growing lettuce greens in Summit. We have the perfect summer temperatures (cool nights and cooler summer months) for growing greens. It’s not too late to start a batch now. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and you can grow greens in pots as well as gardens. If you are interested in getting your garden fix, let us know. We’re happy to show you how. You can also visit The Living Classroom Greenhouse and Community Garden in Frisco for some inspiration. Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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