We’ve been enjoying lettuce from our garden for two weeks now, and my girls and I have each consumed large salads at least every other day since then.
When I made the decision to plant lettuce earlier this spring, I did so largely because of the shadiness of the plot we had prepared. Situated in the back southeast corner of our lot, this garden plot measures about 12 by 15 feet and has three large trees nearby, one on the south, one on the west and one on the north. This also means that the ground has roots beneath the surface that hinders good soil preparation more than six inches down. The plot gets full sun from sunrise through about 11 a.m. and then filtered sun for most of the day after that. The south end of the plot gets full sun again in the late afternoon and evening, so I set aside a third of that end to see if I could grow tomatoes there successfully. The north third I planted with baby spinach. In the middle, I planted the flat of lettuce seedlings that I started inside in mid-March, as well as two other flats that were started later.
The lettuce (Summerlong Gourmet Mix, W.Atlee Burpee & Co.) is composed of six different tender green or red lettuces: Four Seasons, Lollo Rossa, Buttercrunch, Craquerelle du Midi, Black Seeded Simpson and Salad Bowl. Their flavors are on the mild side, which is most popular in my household. Once I complete this 1 gram package (which is likely to take all summer), I am going to have to buy individual packages so that I will know which is which. There is one that is so tender it practically disintegrates in my fingers when I handle it. But that one is the one with the most appealing flavor, so I don’t intend to avoid it, but simply find strategies for handling it.
I put the seedlings outside into the garden in mid-April and covered them with cloches made from soda bottles. Recently, I planted another row directly into the garden plot. I’d like to know if there is an advantage sowing the seeds into the flats.
The cloches are wonderful at keeping out insects and protecting the lettuce from rabbits, as I have not yet fenced off this plot (although that is on my to do list for the coming week). They aren’t fail proof — yesterday I found my first slug — but it’s very nice to harvest lettuce with lovely, flawless leaves. One small downside is that dirt & debris often falls from the cloches as I remove them onto the lettuce leaves, but that easily rinses away in the cleaning process. Another aspect of the cloches that has been a benefit is that I believe the plants stay warmer and thus grow faster inside the plastic. However, as the season heats up, that could turn into a detriment and the cloches may have to go to prevent frying my greens.
The first time I harvested my lettuce greens, I was dismayed to find that when I rinsed them in mass in a colander the way I clean my store-bought lettuce, their leaf structure is far too tender for the weight of the water, and they all went limp.
Thank goodness for the Internet and the gardening friends I have made on Twitter. My friend Dan (@cityslipper) at Your Home Kitchen Garden clued me in to his technique of allowing the lettuce to float in water and then rinsing the individual leaves one-by-one. This man knows what he’s talking about. Doing this solved my problem. Now I have a dedicated pail that I fill with water and put the cut leaves into it as I harvest them. I then rinse the lettuce leaves individually on an outside table with a weak stream from the garden hose before spinning them dry. This method is very efficient, and I can quickly harvest and clean a salad large enough for the three of us in a matter of ten minutes, if I don’t dawdle.
So far I’ve been able to cut the outer leaves of the lettuce plants and leave the inner one or two small leaves on the stalk. By doing this, the plant continues to grow and provide additional harvests. I haven’t yet exhausted any of the plants, so I can’t tell at this point how long I’ll be able to do that. But I plan to put in additional new rows of lettuce each week to make certain that my family and I will continue to enjoy these amazing greens all summer long.