One of my culinary gardening dreams is the creation of a fresh cilantro salsa. Sounds like no big deal, right? Silly me.
Cilantro in my garden only sprouts or makes leaves when there is no trace of a ripe tomato. Cilantro comes up like a weed everywhere in the early spring, self-seeded from the year before. Plants that sprouted in the late fall survive the winter, despite cilantro’s status as an annual that cannot tolerate freezing. Michigan had below freezing temperatures that broke all previous records this winter. I lost a Clematis, a Scotch Broom, and I’m still mourning the ravages of winter burn on a Cypress. Did the cilantro die? No. Cilantro plants overwintered and popped right up as usual in early March.
Successional sowing never works for me, because the cilantro seeds refuse to sprout if they smell tomatoes ripening. I think it is really just nothing but obstinacy. Sure, I’m anthropomorphizing. How else can you get into the leafy brain of cilantro and figure it out? The seeds I tried to sow at tomato time last year were watered, coddled, nurtured, and never sprouted. The spot where I tried to start them is now full of cilantro. This would be great if it didn’t go to seed so quickly. By the time a tomato peeps her juicy red bottom out from beneath the skirt of her vine, all the current cilantro will be long gone: gone to flower, then seed, then wilting.
I’ve spoken about this before, and received lots of good advice that made no difference at all. Maybe sandier soil or high or low pH or seed-soaking works in your garden, but not in mine. But wait! I may have found the solution. It’s a combination of reverse psychology, fake ignorance, and indulgence. I am treating cilantro like a weed.
What I’m doing this year is letting it sprout where it wishes. I’ve let the seeds fall all over the patch now devoted to squash. I’ve seen it on the edge of a flower bed, and pretended I didn’t notice. I’m letting the cilantro think it’s in control (well, it kind of is). I’m letting it think it’s oh-so-bad by getting into things it shouldn’t.
Now the cilantro is happy. Now, when I plant seeds, they grow.
Will this continue to work long enough into the season for my fantasy salsa? If I say out loud Oh damn, more of that terrible terrible weed cilantro! I must get out and pull that soon! but then neglect it, will the cilantro gleefully self-sow into July and August? Is cilantro just a teenager who needs to prove their autonomy? Yes. I’m letting the cilantro think it’s won the battle. I’m letting cilantro think I gave up. I’m stepping back and saying, You’re all grown up now, Cilantro. It’s your choice. In return for my pose of negligence, I’ve harvested several full batches for a non-homegrown salsa and Thai dishes.
But my dream and my desire is so very simple:
A few fresh tomatoes, still warm from the sun
A few fresh hot peppers, seeded and chopped
An onion or two, just out of the ground
Lime juice and oil, salt and pepper
Piles of cilantro, mountains of it-the whole house fragrant in the hot summer with the cool scent of cilantro! Yes!
It’s not too much to ask. Cilantro, please be good this year, okay? But we can keep pretending you’re bad.