Spring cilantro is difficult in Michigan. Even with slo-bolt varieties — those that can withstand higher temperatures for longer periods before they begin to “bolt” or set seed, which makes the flavor of the leaves bitter even to those of us who otherwise love the stuff — the very best I can hope for with earlier sowings are leggy plants whose harvest window is a few days tops. Our springtime according to the thermometer is simply too short these days. It stays too cold for too long and then flips, like a light switch, into the ninety degree dog days of summer like that. Just when the tender shoots are beginning to leaf out, the temperatures sky rocket and away they go, sending up stems topped with the coriander seeds of the next generation.
Of course it took me several years of sowing cilantro in the springtime to come to this realization. I am nothing if not stubborn, and I really wanted that fresh-picked punch of flavor earlier in the year. There are ways I could make it work. There are row covers, and high tunnels; garden cloches for smaller patches, and cold frames if you’re really desperate, but all of these options require an outsized commitment of labor and management. I can’t ensure I’m always here and available at just the right moment of the average March day to remove the covers before the plants get too warm and place them back again before the nighttime temps fall. And this is where cilantro becomes a metaphor for the entirety of our farm.
We began here with a simple philosophy: as little as possible, as much as necessary. But because we are fallible humans we have occasionally deviated from it. Whether we’re moving pigs, farrowing piglets, growing vegetables and herbs, or refurbishing pastures, we have always sought to do as little as possible, and only as much as necessary. Because we have always found that working with Mother Nature rather than against her is best for everyone. Pigs stay calmer, people get injured less often, crops produce more bountiful (and beautiful harvests.)
It’s a lesson we learn over and over again. I’ve never stumbled across a patch of wild cilantro here so I do have to plant and tend to it, but I don’t have to plant it in the spring. Fall is just fine. And I need to remember that the way of the fall cilantro is the way of everything else. Or at least should be.