Skip to content

Accidental overwintering – kale gone wild

2012 April 27
by Alice

In February of 2011, I planted kale from seed in a little homemade framed raised bed. I also planted beets and carrots, but those refused to germinate until later or not at all (respectively), so we’re not on speaking terms. The Red Russian kale I selected was a wild (or shall I say domesticated?) success. Ten to fifteen plants grew vigorously in a 1.5 x 3 ft space, and the greens were tender and flavorful. Guess someone likes a diet of fog and clay.

I thought I would never get tired of the magic of growing plants, now that I had seen it work. I scavenged more wood for a second bed, and even sewed an April attempt at more beets & carrots.

Then wedding planning ramped up, and the garden dropped to the bottom of my priority list. Little did I realize, the plants had to-do-lists of their own…

flowering Red Russian kale

Being the strategic underachiever that I am, I didn’t put any work into clearing out the garden bed. I left the lanky, bug-ridden kale, spurned the unthinned beets, and let nature take its course. By “nature”, I mean Algerian Ivy and some twiny weed that I haven’t yet identified. By “take its course”, I mean “didn’t touch it, or think about it except to feel pangs of guilt”.

Early in 2012, life started feeling less hectic, inch by inch. I looked out at the garden again, and noticed that the kale was still standing. Forget standing, it was thriving.

I harvested a few leaves, and cooked them up with garlic and butter. They were not just edible, but tasted at once crisp and complex. I’ve never had overwintered kale before, so perhaps that’s just how it goes.

pre-bolted kale

I continued harvesting leaves, until one day I went out, and the kale wasn’t where I left it.

It was 12 inches closer to my face, and looking distinctly flower-bud-y.

I suspected this was bolting, and a quick look around the interwebs confirmed it. I found a lovely description of bolting, and the effect it can have on a commercial operation over at Chert Hollow Farm. Essentially, bolting is when a leaf or root crop decides to reproduce, and starts flowering and setting seed. Plant puberty, and menopause?

leafy bolted kale

One month later, the kale is still hanging out, doing its bolting act. It hasn’t died, but it also hasn’t set seed. One plant revealed itself to be the ugly duckling: a beet that survived crowding and occasional harvesting to thrust up a ruddy stalk topped by some rather lovely little inflorescences.

beet inflorescences

Nice try, beet. The red is a dead give-away.

bolted beet

I will see if the flowering kale sets seed, and harvest if so. I’m not interested in eating the flowers as the clusters are hard to distinguish from the bugs that infested the plants last year.

So dear readers, how about your first bolting experience? Did it catch you by surprise? Were you trying to prevent it, or had you forgotten that the plants were still kicking?

However it went, I hope you found it as amazing as I did, in a “plants boggle the mind” sort of way.

5 Responses Post a comment
  1. Mama permalink
    April 27, 2012

    It can happen very fast, seemingly. I remember some lettuce that was just fine one day, and then oops, bolting. I think it was the heat. Lettuce doesn’t like heat.

    • Alice permalink*
      April 27, 2012

      Then maybe lettuce should get out of the kitchen.

  2. Mama permalink
    April 28, 2012

    Ha ha!

  3. April 29, 2012

    Some plants start to change taste when they are about to or beginning to bolt — lettuce gets bitter and the liquid you see when you break off a leaf is milky. That is about the extent of my experience. Oh, and usually intending to save seeds from bolted plants and really never doing so.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Four garden success stories, and a failure | auroraborealice

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS