By Donna Iverson
In the past, when my lettuce, kale and arugula began to bolt with the rising temperatures and longer daylight hours, I would cut it back, or pull it out and reseed, or feed it to the neighbor's chickens or my compost pile. But as I learn more and more about the decimation of our pollinators, I have chosen to let cold weather plants go to seed.
This summer, the arugula was the first to bolt, and I found its leaves edible despite gardeners' warnings to the contrary. A member of the mustard family, arugula has a slightly bitter taste anyway and now the leaves just added an additional sharper tang to salads. It turns out that the tiny white arugula flowers are also edible.
As the temperatures rose, the lettuce and kale also grew tall and stalky. Small scented flowers topped the stalks. I decided to leave them flowering and wait for the bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to find them. ...
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, we could lose 75% of our food supply without these pollinators, including coffee, something a lot of us can't live without. But we can't live without food either. And these little creatures are unsung heroes when it comes to keeping people fed.
Doing a little research, I discovered that bolting lettuce also attracts birds, including finches who feed on its flowering stalks. Goldfinches are especially fond of bolting lettuce, and has earned them the name "lettuce birds."
Flowering herbs also serve as a magnet for pollinators...herbs like cilantro, basil, dill, chamomile, thyme, lemon balm, oregano, rosemary, mint, and chives. Same for bolting vegetables like beets, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, carrots and spinach.
Adding a few flowering annuals and perennials to your veggie beds, will attract less well known beneficial pollinators like moths, praying mantis, and even the common house fly. Flies don't gather nectar but they do carry pollen from plant to plant.
So the next time you are tempted to pull out veggies that have gone to seed, maybe leave a few for that hungry caterpillar or that native bee, struggling to survive. And tell any neighbors who complain about your "weeds", that you are creating habitat for bees and butterflies.