How often do you stop and smell the flowers? There is no better time than right now. With the first day of official Spring just days away, the whole world is in bloom.
Almost every plant that survives the winter blooms in the spring, from the grass in the sidewalk cracks to daffodil bulbs. Trees, bushes, shrubs. You name it. Some have pretty flowers, often with a lovely fragrance. Others have flowers that are barely noticeable. And still others have flower-like apparati such as foxtails or burrs that poke or grab onto your socks or clothes.
On the farm, everything we grow is also blooming — or getting ready to. Last week I mentioned all the fruit trees. But our winter vegetables are also entering their reproductive phase, sending up tall seed stalks covered with flowers. If we let them, those flowers would pollinate and eventually make seeds. All of these crops are “annuals” or “bi-ennials”, sprouting from seed one year and producing seed either the same year or the next year. Once they finish reproducing, they die.
Plants that are in the same family have similar flowers. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collard greens all have small yellow flowers similar to the fields of mustard you may have seen growing wild around Northern California.
Beets and spinach are in the same family as amaranth and quinoa, and make long pointy clusters of tiny flowers. Leeks have the same flowers as onions, large fluffy purple balls. And carrots make umbrella shaped white flowers like their relatives fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace and hemlock.
The seeds of many of these crops are completely edible: carrot seed is sometimes used as a spice, and you could make “mustard” out of broccoli seeds. Beet seed can be cooked like quinoa (but is very bitter). But once the plant starts to reproduce, the previously edible parts of it become woody and bitter. The technical term for this process is “bolting”.
Almost all of the summer vegetables we grow are “annuals”, at least in this area. They grow, reproduce and die in a year or less. But instead of eating the plant itself, as we do with winter vegetables, we eat the fruit and/or seeds they produce: tomatoes, peppers, corn, green beans, squash, cucumbers and melons. You most definitely would not want to eat the roots, leaves or stems of any.
As wonderful as flowers are, they don’t make much of a meal. And so we ask for your patience during this annual time of renewal, and the month or so of scarcity that accompanies it. Happy Equinox.