Why This Blog Is Still NOT about Arugula, Part 2

The bolting arugula

Sometimes in writing, as in life, and even in arugula, things don’t always go as they should.

And—case in point—I have bad news about the garden: the arugula (that we planted last month) in specific. Which bolted before its time. And more bad news: it’s not just the arugula. It’s the spinach and the bok choy too.  Which is really perplexing because if you don’t know anything about bolting, it’s when the plant goes to seed prematurely and happens only in very hot weather. (At least that’s what I thought.) And it’s been unusually cold here.

We’re disappointed, of course, because we’ve been looking forward to the first salad of arugula since last summer’s last salad of arugula.  But (until yesterday) we were also feeling a little bit like failures as gardeners. 

But now we don’t (feel like failures) because sometimes, even when even when things don’t go as they should, there are unexpectedly happy consequences. Such was the case yesterday when, after several days of thinking about it, I picked up the phone to call the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office…specifically the volunteer Master Gardeners!

(From Wikipedia: “Extension services are non-formal educational program implemented in the United States designed to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives. The service is provided by the state’s designated land-grant universities.)

I started with the state office. After I told the very nice person where I lived and explained my problem (specifically my gardening problem; I didn’t explain the impostor syndrome problem, even though I hadn’t written anything at all yesterday because I was so busy figuring out why my arugula is bolting). But she couldn’t help me because she wasn’t in my county. Instead, she transferred me to the Cumberland County Extension Office.

“My arugula is bolting. Can you help me?”

After determining that I was in fact a home gardener, not a professional gardener (known as a farmer), she said: “Yes. Just a minute, let me connect you with the Master Gardener’s office. Your name please?”

I gave her my name, and then she put me on hold.

A few minutes later, someone came on the line. “Is this Julia Martin?” (I only use the Munroe when I’m writing, which I wasn’t doing (at all) yesterday.)


“This is D your neighbor.” (Only she said her name, not her initial) “Remember last summer, we talked about getting together for a cup of tea?”

It took me a second to put it together, but then I realized I was talking to a woman who lives about six doors down from me—and she (apparently) works for the Master Gardener Office!

I explained my problem to D, and she said that usually bolting only happens in hot weather, but that she would look into it. And she also asked if we’d ever had our soil tested (which we have not). And when she found that out, she offered to come and bring me a soil kit that evening (which she did!).

And when D dropped off the soil test kit, she also dropped off information from the Royal Horticultural Society about bolting, specifically cool-weather bolting.

From the Royal Horticultural Society: “Bolting is the term applied to vegetable crops when they prematurely run to seed, usually making them unusable. A cold spell or changes in day length initiates this behaviour. It can affect a wide range of vegetables including lettuce, spinach and fennel.”

Then D and I looked at our garden—which she said looked “wonderful.” (Of course I doubted her sincerity because I have that ridiculous impostor syndrome thing going on this week more than usual.) And she commiserated with me because her arugula also bolted!

We said our goodbyes, agreeing to meet for tea, possibly mint tea since I have mint growing in my garden, and as D said: “we have to use it for something!”

Last night I looked at the soil test kit—which really did make me feel like a farmer not a home gardener when I read the instructions:

The soil test kit
1. The soil in this box should be a composite or mixture of 15 separate samples scattered over a well defined area.

2. Look your field over. Take one composite sample from each 8 acre area or from an area which is uniform with respect to texture, slope, drainage, erosion, color, or past soil management.

3. Use a sampling tube, auger or spade. Take each sampling to the plow depth (6-8 inches)…

There are four more steps, but you get the idea. It’s pretty intense. Today, after I finish plowing the fields and milking the cows, I’ll mail the sample to the Maine Soil Testing Service, and they’ll tell me how to amend the soil to increase my harvest of arugula. But I’m guessing it’s too late for my first arugula salad of this year anyway.

So stay tuned to find out if this blog EVER will be about arugula!

Do you ever have unexpected good consequences come from unfortunate events, like I did with the arugula? And are you like me that pretty much anything can apparently distract you from your writing?



  1. LOL I am exactly like you, in that pretty much anything can distract me from writing (I’ll add the disclaimer: in the summertime!)

    I JUST found out what bolting is—had never heard of the term before, but this year I planted cilantro, and, apparently, despite the directions to leave it in full sun, I need to monitor the soil temperature so that it doesn’t bolt. I found this out when I googled ‘how to cut cilantro.’ Who knew?

    What a coincidence that you ended up chatting with your neighbor. And sheesh, good luck with that soil sample kit. I *will* stay tuned to hear the outcome. 🙂


  2. CMSmith says:

    You are really putting me and my basic dig-a-hole and stick-a-plant-in-it variety of gardening to shame.

    Soil kits! I’m very impressed.

    I just hope after all this effort the groundhogs don’t eat it, like they did with Mark’s vegetables. . .

  3. Barb, You learn something new everyday, right? That’s exactly how I felt when I found out about too-cool weather bolting. Ugh. I am so sad about the arugula. My cilantro is also bolting (but just a little)…the cilantro, which we had TONS of last year, reseeded itself this year and so maybe those little seeds outsmarted Mother Nature by sticking to a more sensible growing schedule! How does YOUR garden grow? 🙂

    Christine, I think *your* gardening is putting ME to shame — your garden is AMAZING! As for the groundhogs, I think that well happen…. we have *something* eating our plants already. An entire eggplant seedling disappeared, sigh! As for the soil kit, my friend D said it’s really a necessity around here, especially since we had soil brought in for our veggie garden!

  4. Chris Fries says:

    Fascinating post, Julia!

    I have to admit being ignorant on gardening — when you mentioned your arugula was “bolting,” I got an image of a swarm of plants pulling up their roots and scrambling over the fence in a sudden breakout.

    I’m more at the rudimentary “mow it, trim it, or dig it up if it dies” level of plant care.

  5. Chris, Hilarious! As soon as you said you were ignorant at gardening, I knew the direction you were going. The picture in my mind of arugula scrambling over the fence and down the street is permanently etched in my mind. (I wish I’D thought of it!). As with writing, to each his/her own gardening interest–that’s what I say! Thanks for giving me a laugh in the middle of the day!

  6. Ann says:

    Dang! My comment didn’t show up!

    That was very nice of your neighbor to bring the testing kit… And I’m glad you explained “bolting”. I would have thought it was slang for dead arugula!

    I try – but not always succeed – to find the silver lining. I’m a generally happy, optimistic person.

    …..there! I think that’s what I originally said! If it’s a double post – sorry!

  7. Hi Ann, You and I have a love-hate relationship with blogger….or in my case not so much love! No double post, just one! Glad I explained bolting, too; it’s such a part of my life/language that I kind of thought everyone would know, but decided to explain anyway. You definitely come across on your blog as a happy, optimistic person–so it doesn’t surprise me that you look for the silver lining. I try to stay on the sunnyside too, but sometimes the dark side pulls me in!

  8. I love reading about all your adventures, Julia, whether or not they’re writing-related! It’s so funny how small our world can be, and that the person you were trying so hard to reach ended up being your neighbor.

    Unfortunately I also get very easily distracted when it comes to writing. For example, right now, I was going to free-write for a little bit and then I realized that I haven’t commented on my favorite blogs in a while. So I gave myself a quick five-minute break to do so!

  9. Natalia, I’m glad you enjoy reading about my adventures whether writing related or not — because I do seem to write about a lot of non-writing topics! It’s so sweet that you come to visit me when you’re commenting on favorite blogs! Thank you so much; the feeling is quite mutual! (p.s. life in a small town that the answer I needed was right under my nose the whole time, lol!)

  10. Sorry about your arugula debacle … But, at least you met up with your neighbor and are well on your way to becoming a farmer : -). I can teach you a thing or two about diary cattle since I grew up next to grandpa’s dairy farm. At any rate, this is why I don’t garden in the desert… way too much to go wrong – like giant jack rabbits eating everything, tiny birds poking their tiny beaks into your cherry tomatoes just “so,” making them die on the vine, javelinas rooting everything up, gnawing critters, bugs … dry soil, Colecch in the soil … 110-degree heat (yes it was that hot today). But I digress… I think YOU should keep at it since it brings you such enjoyment. And as for being derailed from my writing … Ah hah – today was the perfect example. Wanted to start with WIP, but got two emails from east coast clients with rush projects. Threw me off all day… There’s always tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

  11. Melissa, Your description of desert farming makes me glad my farm is in Maine 🙂 You’ve given me the incentive to continue…and I’ll let you know when we’re adding cows to the herd and I need advice! As for the writing, it’s up and down these days–maybe we’re just Scarlett O’Hara wannabes…. as you say, “I’ll think about it tomorrow!” (p.s. MEH thought I was a little crazy tonight at the grocery store when I said I was going to take a pic of the Dove chocolate and tweet it to you 🙂

  12. Susan says:

    I feel your pain! My cilantro bolted before I could use any of it, and I am furiously making pesto nearly every other day and freezing it because it looks like my basil is headed in the same direction. Since I only have a tiny courtyard, I will NOT test my soil. I’ll just buy another plant. By the way, we’re having an arugula and strawberry salad tonight with dinner. The arugula is from Trader Joe’s, not my garden.

  13. Susan, Arugula and strawberry salad sounds soooo good! I will have to take a trip to Trader Joe’s tomorrow! (Last night we used a little arugula mixed with romaine to make a base for a steak salad, delicious!) It’s a strange and frustrating gardening year — at least our tomatoes are looking good so far! As for our basil (started from seed) it’s about 1/4 inch tall with only secondary leaves!

  14. Julia, this is a fascinating post! I’d never heard of bolting, so I’m happy that I’ve already learning something new today. Also, I’m impressed that you were able to follow those soil test kit instructions. I was completely confused by #3. Guess that’s why I’m not a gardener (yet). 🙂

  15. Jen, Glad to enlighten! As for this cool-weather bolting, it’s never happened to us before (and we’ve both been gardeners our whole lives)… as for following the directions on the soil test kit, it’s still sitting on the kitchen table, untouched, so we’ll see once the rain stops! 🙂 A future blog perhaps…