Sunday, August 12, 2012


For instant gratification, there's nothing like nursery six-packs of lettuce seedlings. Of course, they're very tiny, and the nursery will have a number of exciting varieties, so you'll probably bring home several six-packs. You will plant them, water them, pick a handful of little leaves and post pictures of your first tiny home-grown salad on Facebook.

Lettuce seedlings from the nursery, because I'm into instant gratification. 
This is what I do every spring. Soon, I have more lettuce than I really want. I encourage guests to take bags of lettuce home, bring salads to parties, and start giving bags of lettuce to family, friends, and any passers-by who express an interest. 

At this point, instead of picking a couple of outer leaves from each plant, I'm chopping entire heads of lettuce off at the base. (If you leave an inch or two of stalk, clusters of fresh new leaves will grow back. It never occurs to me that, faced with too much lettuce, I have the option of killing off a few plants.) 

Just about to flower. The beginner guide to seed saving from the seed lending library says, "Let lettuce bolt. When half the flowers have turned white and fluffy, cut off the stalk and put upside down in a brown paper bag to dry. Remove chaff." 
This lasts a few more weeks before the lettuce starts to bolt. I step up my harvesting, trying to keep ahead of nature. Grilled lettuce and lettuce soup start sounding like reasonable ideas. Then the whole lettuce patch goes to seed.

I am finally coming to terms with the fact that lettuce is not one of those plants you can stick in the ground in spring and harvest continuously until winter. It has a finite lifespan. No matter how well I water it, how diligently I harvest it, it will eventually get all tall and spindly and bitter. 

The sensible thing to do here would be to start planting a half-dozen lettuces every month or so, ensuring a constant supply of tender young greens, and letting me feel okay about ripping up and composting any plants that start to go to seed. Instead I've planted a dense, 10-foot by 18-inch strip of greens (mâche, assorted lettuce, assorted braising greens, spinach, and miner's lettuce), plus a mixed-variety six-pack of seedlings I picked up at the nursery.

I hear lettuce soup is really quite tasty.

New baby lettuces, planted from seed about two weeks ago.