I dawdled this morning. I was “working” at home (grading papers), so there was no rush to bike to work. Despite the cool spring I wrote of a few weeks ago, the air and soil have warmed up quite nicely now. I had closed up my cold frame last night because the temperature was to drop below forty. Quite suddenly I had a vision of the “mercury” in my thermometer busting out of the top of the tube and shocking a sweltering and incompetent coyote. Of course, perish the thought, I don’t use mercury anymore. I use alcohol. In my thermometer too!
As I write, it’s May Day and we’ve suddenly switched from early spring to summer. These changes can catch us unawares, plants are the same way. My spinach has been producing huge succulent leaves for three weeks or so. I’ve been stir frying and wilting spinach to toss with everything I eat. N.B. children do not appreciate this behavior: “waffles and spinach don’t work Pop!” The spinach loves the nice cool weather along with days that aren’t too long.
Once days are longer than 14 hours and especially when the temperature tops 75 degrees or so (I have no citation for this, it’s just my experience), spinach bolts. This year in Massachusetts we got our first 14 hour day on April 29. Pretty much on cue my spinach bolted.
I hope you are picturing little green plants grabbing their boots, throwing a little hobo sack over their upper leaves, and taking off for cooler climes: Alaska or bust. Alaskans do long for more greenery (woman cannot live on moose and wolf alone Sarah).
Of course what’s really happening is that the spinach is flowering. Primitive cave spinach from Iran (it’s thought to be Persian) evolved as an early spring plant. It flowered, set seeds, and died before the rest of the big plants got going. It’s an excellent niche and plants in every temperate climate fit the niche. Around here our forests are filled with spring ephemerals, though many are pretty , none are as delicious as spinach.
It can be hard to grab this tiny window of good growth, but there are a couple ways to cheat the odds. I plant my spinach in the fall pretty late. It germinates, and gets roots going and puts up some leaves. In years passed I’ve just mulched on top of the spinach through the winter. This year, as my regular reader will remember (I do!), I used a plastic tunnel to protect spinach into the winter. Because of it I actually ate spinach from some of these plants into January.
As soon as things got above freezing on most days I removed the hoop house and moved it to my onions. April has been spinach rich I’ve been able to indulge sometimes more than once daily. With May and bolted spinach, my dark green lovely breakfasts are finished until the chard and Kale take over in a month or so. Until then I will have to be content with lettuce. Good luck spinach, wherever you’ve bolted to.