The Q&A Archives: Factors that Result in Variations in Taste -- Peas, Spinach, Lettuce

Question: I have vegetable-gardened in some 15 locations in the past 30 years. Sometimes in established gardens, sometimes starting from scratch, following usual soil enhacement procedures, though usually without benefit of soil anaylsis. Why is there variationin the sweetness of veggies, particularly green beans and lettuces; variety is not always the only reason. I think that even watering is a factor, but it too is not the only factor, nor is good sun. Is there a nutrient that has to do particularly with "sweetness"? I've grown lettuce and tastes like grass and beans that are flavorless, although they look fine. I tend to harvest these things when very young. Barbara Groom Waquoit, MA

Answer: Aside from the factors you mention -- variety, amount of sun and water -- there are a few other things that might account for the variation in taste. One is temperature. Plants like peas, spinach, and lettuce like cool weather where they grow slowly. In hot weather, they will grow quickly, and in the case of lettuce and spinach, bolt to form flower heads. Plants that grow too quickly may end up with a bitter or bland taste. One trick is to plant lettuce in a spot where it will get some shade during the hottest part of the day. Or try planting a little earlier in the spring, if possible, or plant a midsummer crop for fall harvest. As long as your plants are adequately fertilized, nutrient levels probably aren't a factor in taste.

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