In the Field: Bolting lettuce and companion plants
Farmer D shows you how to recognize a bolting plant and explains the reasons behind this process. He then talks about the importance of companion plants, successional planting and intercropping. (Meredith Darlington/MNN and Nick Scott/MNN)
Farmer D: See all that milk coming off the stem? That’s a sign of bitterness in the lettuce, when it’s real milky like that. So what’s going to happen when it bolts which this is -- it’s starting to flower, it sends up a stalk -- it’s good to harvest the whole plant. When lettuce starts to send a stalk up the middle like that, that’s what happens with it’s bolting. And basically what it’s doing is it’s got to a cycle in its maturation where it wants to make seeds, it wants to go to flower. And we could let these lettuces go to seed, there’s nothing wrong with that, if you want to save seeds off of a lettuce. You are going to lose space in the garden for another six weeks but this will produce enough seeds to grow another 500 to 1,000 heads of lettuce. And onions and lettuce are a good companion plant. One of the things you can do while planting things like onions and lettuce together is you can maximize the amount of stuff you can grow in a small space. The onions grow upright and they don’t -- and the lettuce spreads out so they don’t really compete with each other. They are happy to grow together, and onions are good for deterring bugs. Sunflowers, they actually are the reason why I decided to plant cucumbers in this bed. Because cucumbers and sunflowers are companion plants. They’ll climb up the sunflowers so they get their own little trellis. These coconut pots are great because you really don’t have to take the plant out of the pot which is going to mean a lot less stress on the plant. So I’m going to actually stick this whole pot in the hole and just going to leave it right in there. I’m going to make it a little bit deeper because that way the cucumber will be -- won't be blowing in the wind quite so much. Very gentle. Most plants, you plant them at what you call the net. These are the [indistinct], these two generic-looking leaves and then these true leaves are the leaves that look like the actual plant. And the net is kind of right here below those. So we couldn’t go any deeper down to the net. So you know what I will do at this point is I will push them down and fill them up a little bit more.
Woman: So are you putting the cucumbers about a foot apart?
Farmer D: Yeah, I’m not spreading them out very far in this space because they are going to grow up on the sunflowers so it’s okay if they are a little thick and again, you know, in a raised bed, in an urban garden you want to squeeze as much as you can into a small space. So I’m spacing them a little closer than I would on a farm per se. On the farm I’d probably go about here, here, here, here. In a raised bed you have so much nutrient packed into a small space, I’m keeping them a little closer. So that’s a little bit about successional and intercropping, successional planting and intercropping. Cucumbers are a good thing to follow lettuce because they are, you know, obviously seasonally they are a summer vegetable. You wouldn’t want to -- you want to try to avoid following the same families. Families being cucumbers and melons and squash are all related. Tomatoes and peppers and eggplants are related. So those are a few tips to take back to your garden.