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Bolting lettuceWhat Causes Bolting?
Bolting is the name for plants making flowers and seeds. When a plant starts to bolt, it is usually a sign to expect a poor harvest, and a decline in flavor. You can eat bolting plants, but they become too tough and woody at some point.
Factors that can Trigger Bolting
Annual plants (basil, lettuce, melons, peas) grow from seed, flower and set seed all in one year. That can be spring to winter or fall to summer. Annual crops start making flowers as the daylength and temperature increase. Some annuals are crops where we eat the fruit or seeds and bolting is not an issue (sweet corn, tomatoes).
Increased day length: Bolting can happen (especially with annual crops) when day length increases as summer approaches. This can be a problem if you planted your seeds too late in the spring for that crop to mature before the plants bolt.
High soil temperatures: As soil temperatures increase, annual plants begin flower and seed production. This isn’t a problem after bountiful harvests. But, when spring has unusually hot weather or if you plant crops too late into the growing season, your crop may bolt before any harvests.
Biennial plants (beets, brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips etc), carrots, celery, chard, leeks, onions, spinach) grow big the first year, then seed the second year, if we still have them. Many biennial food crops are grown as cool weather annuals. Unsettled weather (cold nights, hot days, late frosts) early in the season can cause biennials to bolt. Spinach grows best in temperatures from 35-75°F (1-23°C) and will begin to flower once spring days are longer than 14 hours and temperatures get above 75°F (23°C).
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