What to do with bolted lettuce?

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It can be a little frustrating to turn your back for a minute and that whole patch of lettuce you had is now bolted.

Bolted is when the plant literally ‘bolts’ upwards, going to seed.

For lettuce, this makes them pretty inedible unless you like a very bitter taste. The problem is when it all happens at once – what do you do with a dozen bolted lettuces? Here are a couple of tips for not letting the greens go to waste.

Compost

One option is to compost them. Pull them up and leave them to rot down on your compost heap. Green leaves are well known to rot down well and to make a lovely fertile mush. Use your composted bolted lettuce to feed the ground for your next batch of salad, thereby continuing the circle of life and not wasting anything. Please never feel tempted to bonfire or bin something as innocent as a bolted lettuce, it would be such a waste!

Feed the birds

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Not the garden birds but any feathered poultry you, friends, family or a neighbour might have. Unlike us humans, poultry are not too fussy about how bitter their lettuce leaves are. It is very good for them too. A green-based diet does wonderful things to their eggs, making their yolks a rich, yellow colour. My poultry basically rule me – well, I think all my animals believe they are royalty. You  should see the way I am summoned by the cats to feed them. Even one of our pigs asks me to hand feed her every night. But the poultry believe it is their right to have boring chicken food first thing and a special snack in the evening. They stand by the fence and wait all afternoon. It has been a lot cheaper and a lot healthier for  them, I am sure, to give them the unwanted excess of our garden produce. They love old cabbage or cauliflower leaves, any chickweed weeds growing in the patch and the bolted lettuce. If you don’t have any feathered pets of your own, see if anyone you know does and would appreciate the greens. You never know, you might be able to exchange bolted lettuce for half a dozen eggs every now and then. It is the sweet farm-community-business I think we are missing around here – I will give you something you want that I don’t want, in exchange for what I want that you don’t want.

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Fry ’em

Treat bolted lettuce like oriental greens that are slightly strong tasting. Add the torn up leaves into any stir fry and add some flavouring of chilli, ginger, soy sauce etc. as you wilt them down.

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Side Dish

Try frying the bolted lettuce on its own and serve it as a green side dish, just like some pubs and restaurants serve wilted spinach as an optional side dish instead of salad or chips. Fry them in some butter or oil in a pan and serve alongside any meal that takes your fancy.

Lettuce Soup

I haven’t made this before but I have heard that bolted lettuce tastes fine when it is blended into a soup. Here is a recipe I would use if I wanted to make it as I think it sounds pretty good. It is by Rose Prince from the Telegraph Magazine (search online). Let me know if you ever try it, I would love some feedback:

(Serves 4)

– 120g salted butter  – 1 leek, sliced and then washed – 500ml boiling water  – The outer leaves from 2 floppy ‘butterhead’ lettuces, or a romaine lettuce – 150ml Greek yogurt or crème fraîche

To serve:  – 12 pink peppercorns – The leaves from 4 sprigs of dill  – 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil  – A little yogurt or crème fraîche

1.Melt the butter over a medium heat in a small pan and add the leek. Cook for two minutes until soft then add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for four minutes. Add the lettuce leaves and simmer for one minute.

2. Put in a blender and process with the yogurt or crème fraîche until very smooth and velvety – you can pass the soup through a sieve after blending for an extra silky texture, if you wish. Taste and season with salt and a tiny amount of ground white pepper.

3. To make the pepper oil, put the pink peppercorns with the dill in a pestle and mortar. Add the oil and pound until the spice and herbs are bruised, releasing their flavour. Serve the soup either hot, soon after you have made it, or chilled, with the oil dripped on to the surface. Add a little more yogurt or crème fraîche.

Let them flower for the bees

Another option is to leave the bolted lettuces where they are, or some of them, for the bees. They do like bolted crop’s flowers, particularly brassicas I have noticed.

Save for seed

If you don’t leave the gone to seed lettuce for the bees needs, then you can always save it for yourself to take the seeds from your favourite variety. Pick or shake off the ready formed seeds into labelled envelopes and store in a dry place for sowing next season.

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Flowers for the buzzy bees

We keep some of our honey bees in the vegetable patch. Our bees are pretty lazy, preferring to wait for some sugar water rather than to go and collect some pollen but on a sunny day, our garden is alive with the buzzing hum of bumble and honey bees out and about. Different bees are attracted to different types of plants. For example, honey bees work a particularly large selection of crops so it is natural that they work the raspberries in our garden which we have a large supply of. Bumble bees are perfect for runner bean flowers and blossom on trees (they can venture out when it is colder and later than a honey bee can). There are different ways of attracting bees to your vegetable garden to pollinate your crops – remember, no bees, no fruit or vegetables unless you want to get the paintbrush out and pollinate everything by hand which might take some time! One way of attracting bees to your crops is to plant some flowers they love nearby  or with them. Some of these can be edible too, making them another great plant to grow in your garden to transfer to the kitchen table.

Edible flowers that bees love:

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Bee flying to Borage
  • Borage – this is the best edible flower to grow that is a bee’s favourite. It is a blue flower with green leaves that resemble comfrey. There is another blue flower that resembles it that flowers earlier that you must beware of – it is not edible while borage is. Borage flowers have a sort of star-shaped petal arrangement with delicate, purple details. The fake borage flower resembles a vibrant, bigger version of a forget-me-not. If you are sowing seeds, buy a packet in spring and sow. Borage’s ability to self-seed ensures that you should have these plants in the vegetable garden for life, as long as you do not pull any up while weeding. Pick the flower heads and use in culinary preparations. They have a cooling, cucumber-like taste so they go very well with Pimms or salads. Otherwise, they look beautiful when scattered on top of a coffee or chocolate cake – the colour stands out against the icing in the most incredible way. Borage was originally grown for medicinal purposes, treating gastrointestinal issues (cramp, diarrhoea, colic), airway diseases (asthma), urinary infections and cardiovascular complaints. Planting borage near strawberries or fruit trees is supposed to make the fruit taste better but it is also a good companion plant for legumes, brassicas, spinach and tomatoes, that it is also supposed to improve the flavour of. It should flower around June or July.

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Use Borage flowers in recipes that would use cucumbers or as beautiful decoration on cakes – sister’s 18th birthday cake, 2016
  • Nasturtiums – These are great for gardens with poor soil as the worse it is, the more they thrive. They come in all types of vibrant colours and patterns, looking beautifully bright. They will flower from late summer through the autumn until the frost arrives. Then they die back and often pop up and self-seed VERY reliably the next year. Once you have sown a batch of nasturtium seeds, you will never need to sow another again! Any nasturtium seed will do, I recommend ‘Empress of India’ of the top of my head. Nasturtium flowers can be picked and added to a salad or another dish that accompanies a peppery flavour. It is recommended to include them in tempura, anything that needs a little heat. You can sow them in spring and be seeing them in July.
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Nasturtiums are very good at self-seeding in infertile soil
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Their bright colours will add a vibrant pop to your salad plates and a peppery flavour

 

  • Viola – You need to start these off in early spring indoors in little pots as they are fussy germinators. They taste sweeter and less peppery than most other flowers you can grow. Many people like to add them on top of cakes or scatter them over a trifle because of this reason. And they look delicate and beautiful. They are a pansy-like, deep purple coloured flower with splashes of yellow in the centres.
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Beautiful Viola

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  • Calendula (pot marigold) – Bright orange flowers that are quite easy to germinate outdoors and are excellent companion plants for nearly everything. Plant them all of the place for a splash of colour. They can be used in fresh salads or dried and used to colour cheeses, apparently. Their colour makes them a perfect substitute to saffron. Throw them into any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisine. You can also infuse the petals and make calendula tea. Calendulas can be used in ointments to treat minor burns, cuts and skin irritations, such as acne. They contain anti-inflammatory properties and have been used to treat constipation and abominable cramps. I even know of someone who suggests making a conditioner from calendula flowers for people with blonde hair – it brings out their colour naturally. Sow outdoors in spring when all the frosts have gone. The seeds are easy to harvest and keep for next year and the plants themselves are again reliable self-seeders.
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Calendula (Pot Marigold)
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Bright, sunny flower that is a great companion plant, attracting the bees to your crops

 

Non-edible flowers that bees love:

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Stunning yet deadly Foxgloves
  • Foxgloves – Tall, wildflowers that come in an arrangement of colours, mostly whites, purples and pinks. They look lovely but are deadly to all. Foxgloves and ragwort are the two plants I am always on the look out for if I am giving my weeds to the pigs or poultry. They will grow even where you don’t want them – right in the middle of your vegetable bed, often. However, bees do love them so do save a few. Plus, they will make a lovely array of colour from June to July.
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Comfrey
  • Comfrey – Inedible but brilliant for the vegetable patch. Bees adore the pink flowers (especially bumble bees who should do the majority of pollinating in your plot), they are very hardy and resistant. They can grow anywhere. Harvesting their leaves (that will grow back instantly) you can make your own comfrey feed for plants. Their thuggish behaviour makes them a great boarded plant as they prevent weeds from growing anywhere near them.

 

  • French Marigolds – Unlike the pot marigolds, the French ones are not edible but they are stunning and a great companion plant. Their petals are bright yellow with splashes of crimson red painted over them. Their leaves are a shaggy, dark green and they can grow to be quite big. They will last from mid-summer to late autumn, depending on the weather. You need to start marigolds off indoors, like violas. Sow them in small pots as early as February or March and plant them outdoors when the frosts have gone and they are big enough to handle. They make great companion plants for carrots (deter carrot fly with their strong smell), tomatoes, legumes, brassicas (deter cabbage whites). They are one of my favourites to grow as they are such stunners.

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  • Cosmos – Another favourite, these simple and delicate flowers can come in an arrangement of colours – my favourites are the whites and light pinks. They remind me of the type of flower a fairy could perch on. They are bee friendly and add delicate colour and beauty to your plot. Sow them indoors in trays in early spring if the frosts are hanging around later than normal (like I had to this year) or sow them direct into the ground in spring. They are another one I would recommend harvesting the seed from and storing for the next year.

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