Lettuce In

We still have a garden! I have neglected my garden blogging in lieu of my fascination with the honey-bearing insects in our backyard, but we are spending plenty of time on our garden, too!

We’re growing another mix of heirloom lettuce. The lettuce mixes in our garden this year include the Mesclun Mix from Uprising Organics and the London Springs Mix from Territorial Seeds. I like varied textures, bright colors, and many flavors in my lettuce mix. Last year we grew the Uprising Organics mysterious lettuce mix and I was really pleased with it. It’s hard for me to be displeased with a high quality lettuce mix, you know?

These little guys are just waiting for the perfect spot to open up in one of the big beds.

Is there anything more delicious than old-fashioned organic baby lettuce in your backyard? NO, there is not. It’s just the most simple, perfect food to grow and I encourage everyone to plant some. I prefer the loose-leaf style of lettuce, since I am too impatient to wait for them to form that perfect, classic “head of lettuce.” I know it’s easier to ship a Head of Lettuce than it is to ship a bag of loose leaves, but if you don’t need to ship it, you can grow whatever kind of lettuce your heart desires. You can plant lettuce that’s spicy or sweet, with oak-leaf shapes or frilly ruffled leaves. You can find every color of lettuce from chartreuse to burgundy. Plant a mix of lettuce seeds, and maybe a mesclun mix too. It will be difficult to get bored with salad that comes in so many colors. I believe that a salad of lettuce from your backyard is a both a luxury and a right, and I want nothing but righteous luxury for you.

Here are eleventy hundred reasons why you should grow fancy lettuce:

1. It’s Super Easy.
Lettuce is fast to germinate and quick to start producing. It’s delicious at every stage of its development – unlike all those annoying vegetables that have to ripen, requiring precise water, sun, temperatures and pest protection until the moment the fruit is ready. You can eat lettuce any time before it bolts.

2. It’s, like, so totally and completely simple and easy.
You can grow lettuce just about anywhere. It doesn’t require full sunlight, and actually prefers some shade in the hot summer. They don’t mind window boxes, containers, flower bed edges, or entire beds planted with oceans of lettuce. They have shallow roots, so they are pretty tolerant of absurd planters. You could grow lettuce in a clog.

(photo used with permission from Fion N.)

I don’t want to hear any of that “I don’t have any space to garden” crap. Lettuce will grow just fine in an old yogurt container on a window sill. It grows up so fast, you hardly have time to care for it, just a few weeks of benign neglect, and then it’s gone. Don’t forget to water it once in a while.

3. It’s really cost effective.
Lettuce seeds are tiny and light so you get a huge number of seeds for just a few bucks. (Please choose a quality seed provider, like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or another reputable source.) Have you purchased organic baby lettuce at the grocery store or farmers market lately? It costs more than twice as much to buy 1 lb of baby lettuce as it costs to buy 1 package of seeds. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service reports:

In fall of 2001, Growing for Market reported “spring mix” greens wholesaling for slightly more than $3.80/lb. (2), which translates to roughly $4.95-$5.35 at the retail level.

I think my seeds cost $2? Maybe $3? This is a no brainer.

The greatest enemies of lettuce are:

1. slugs. i hate them! they love lettuce!
If you have slugs, I hope yours are less smart and resilient than mine. Mine won’t drown, don’t like beer, and hide from me when I go out to hand-pick them. I am considering a flock of ducks, but Krista says ducks are messy (she is right, of course, but I really dislike slugs). I have heard that you can have some success with copper wire, copper tape, sluggo, diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, and ground-up egg shells. Steve Solomon writes about Fertosan Slug Destroyer in his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades but it’s not approved for use in the USA and I can’t find a Swiss person to send me some.
(Depending on your garden, you may also have problems with deer, caterpillars, aphids, various beetles and loopers, but I consider slugs to be the primary target.)

2. heat!
Lettuce is generally a cool-season crop, which means it does well in the Pacific Northwest just about year-round. But if you live some place hot, you can build a little umbrella or shade to cover your lettuce from the hottest sun. Or you can plant it in the shady spots of your yard where nothing else will flourish! Once lettuce plants get hot, they bolt. Once they bolt, the good eating is over. Blech. I do not recommend bolted lettuce! If you live someplace that is hella hot (shout out to all my texan & oklahoman friends and all the lovely people suffering an east coast heat wave), you can plant a fall crop of lettuce just as soon as those temperatures dip back below 70. You can eat fresh lettuce until you have a hard freeze that kills it all. You’ll know you had a hard freeze because all your outside lettuce will turn black. I’ve heard of some people raising baby lettuce in cold frames all winter. It sounds reasonable, so I plan to try it this winter.

____________________________________________

If I have not convinced you to grow your own organic salad by now, it’s time to invite you over for dinner and serve a homegrown salad. And if that doesn’t convince you, I will pack up a bag of potting soil and a pinch of lettuce seeds like a goodie bag to carry home. Don’t test me. I have been known to show up to people’s houses with a bag of soil and planting containers. You will not be the first I’ve converted.

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5 Comments

Filed under garden, summer, urban farming

5 responses to “Lettuce In

  1. andrea

    if i weren’t already planning on a fall lettuce crop, you would have convinced me. also, last year i had a lot of luck with coffee grounds, i don’t think i lost ANY lettuce to slugs! you could see their slimy, shiny trails all around, but they avoided the coffee-grounded areas.

    • jess s

      i don’t think it counts if i convert you, since you are already so far over on my side! my slugs appear to not care about coffee grounds – maybe it’s because it’s the PNW and they have seen it before? but i will try them again. i have access to a LOT of coffee grounds via the coffee shops of the town.

  2. I am growing this lettuce mix:
    http://www.woodprairie.com/product/169/organic-vegetable-garden-seeds
    which is absolutely fucking ingenious because the amaranth grows big and tall with wide leaves to shade the little tender lettuces and other weird delightful greens underneath. I can not identify Magentaspreen Goosefoot by sight, but I can testify that everything in this mix is weirdly delicious. I got a packet of their fall/winter mix too.

    • jess s

      A winter lettuce mix from Maine? This has piqued my interest. Thanks for the link!

      • Hillary

        Speaking of winter gardening in Maine, have you read “The Winter Harvest Handbook”? It’s written by an organic farmer in Maine who grows/harvests crops year-round in unheated greenhouses. He says that the greenhouses and row covers make the soil feel like it’s two zones further south. It’s a really interesting read.

        Also, you’ll see on facebook but… I harvested my first potato! We’re growing the Yukon Golds in a regular bed, since I read they only grow potatoes on the bottom layer anyway. I was poking around in there and struck [Yukon] gold! Just had to let you know!

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