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Growing Lettuce for the Love of It

By Debbie Nowicki

Tags: lettuce, spring growing, saving seeds,

Debbie NowickiI Love Lettuce! I grew up eating iceberg lettuce and even into my adult years all I ever knew was iceberg … then I started paying attention to lettuce and either I became aware or society as a whole noticed ALL the different types of lettuce out there! There is loose-leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, salad blends and baby lettuce; all types of varieties and colors.

Lettuce in a bowl

The best part about lettuce is you can start out with a bed of crisp lettuce and top it with an assortment of other foods. Add garden fresh vegetables and herbs or freshly grilled chicken or fish, even fruit and you have one filling nutritious meal and it’s so easy!

Blueberry, chicken and lettuce salad

I have never been successful growing lettuce in my garden and this year I decided to change that. I realized it was time to take affirmative action when I noticed the outrageously high prices on all the produce, lettuce included, on my last visit to the grocery store. I remember seeing an article somewhere on growing lettuce and sure enough after browsing my past issues of GRIT I found it! Last year March/April 2008 issue, “Grow Luscious Lettuce”! How perfect! I can totally relate to the author, Cathy Wilson and her experiences growing lettuce. I would scatter seed in several rows in early spring, thin out after several weeks and harvest leaf by leaf hoping for a bowl of hardy crisp lettuce for a nice salad. I would end up adding the handful of lettuce greens to store bought lettuce and pretend to be happy with my less than bountiful yield.

This year I intend to follow the advice given in this article.

• Start early INDOORS (count back 2 ½ months from your last frost date). I started my lettuce seed this past weekend; 5-6 seeds in individual pots instead of hundreds of tiny seed scattered in rows (picture of lettuce seed in pot), covered with plastic wrap and set under grow lights.
• Keep soil moist – do not allow to dry out.
• Add compost and slow release fertilizer pellets halfway through the season.
• To harvest, cut with a serrated knife right above the crown.

The four types of lettuce I will be growing: Red Romaine which sprouted up after only 3 days, Green Ice, Green Towers and Summer Glory Blend.

Red romaine lettuce sprouts

Along with my lettuce choices, I will be planting some other greens; Arugula, Swiss Chard and Spinach. Last year I had great success with spinach and allowed many stalks to go to seed. I planted the seed the following fall and had another crop of spinach and I still have plenty of seed to plant again this spring!

Saved spinach seed

I have been on the lookout for old cookbooks which I believe will make a fun and interesting collection! (picture of cookbooks)

Cookbook selection

I found several so far and “The Farmer’s Cookbook” by Mitzi Ayala has a few good tips I will share.

• A tomato grower will tell you never to refrigerate a tomato. The delicate tissues of this tropical plant will deteriorate rapidly at temperatures below 50 degrees.
• Soak beans 24 hours to leach out the gas-causing oligosaccharides, throw out the soak water and then cook.
• Strawberries shouldn’t be washed until just before eating them. Washing dissolves the strawberry’s natural waxy coating and allows water to enter it like a sponge. A rapid breakdown of vitamin C and loss of flavor results.

Strawberry bread

Leafing through the cookbook I spotted this recipe for Strawberry Bread and had to try it! Enjoy!!

Strawberry Bread
½ cup (4 fl. oz) butter
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 eggs
2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt (I used just a pinch)
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (4 fl. oz) sour cream
1 cup (8 oz) pureed strawberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and lemon juice and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Sift together flour, salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Mix together sour cream and strawberries. Alternately fold flour mixture and strawberry mixture into egg mixture. Pour into a 9x5 loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.
3/4/2009 11:55:16 AM

I have experimented with freezing spinach by steaming, blanching and just freezing as is. All the methods seemed to work fine except the "as is" method took up ALOT more space in the freezer. Steaming was less messy than the blanching method. I still have some frozen spinach in the freezer thank goodness since the grocery store prices are outrageous, yes! Dave, our frost date is about the same here in Illinois and I always start way too early myself. In the future we plan to have a greenhouse so that should help with my anxiousness in planting! The Strawberry Bread tasted delicious but I might tweek it by adding 1 less egg and using yogurt in place of the sour cream. Seems the old cookbooks didn't care too much about the calorie count! My daughter is the same; salad over steak any day for her!

nebraska dave
3/4/2009 10:07:49 AM

Debbie, I’m getting that itch to get outside and start digging in the dirt. My black thumb antics with growing things has accumulated many stories over the years. I’ve tried to start things early but usually always end up buying the plants from the store. I think that part of my problem is I start too early. When that first seed catalog comes right after Christmas, it’s real hard for me to wait all the way to April to start those seeds indoors. Our last frost date in my area of Nebraska is around May 15th. I have had success with Swiss Chard. I would say that it’s not because of any kind of growing skill that I have acquired, but simply because I could practically throw the seeds on the ground , walk away, and have them grow. They seemed to tolerate every possible torture I exposed to them and still produce a decent crop. The strawberry bread recipe intrigued me. Many years ago I baked bread the old fashioned way. It took the better part of 5 hours to mix, let rise, knead, let rise, and bake the loaves. I quickly learned that if I was to have any left for tomorrow, I had to bake 5 loaves at a time because as the timer counted down to the end of baking time four family members crowded around the table with the butter waiting for the bread to come out of the oven. Two loaves always disappeared immediately after the timer rang. I might have to resurrect that tradition, but with only a family of one I could most likely get by with just a couple loaves. I know my Grandson would love Strawberry bread. He would live on Strawberries if he could. He is the most natural vegetarian that I have ever seen. At age four, his favorite foods are fruits and vegetables. At Thanksgiving dinner last year, we had turkey with all the trimmings; my Grandson had a bowl of salad. What’s up with that? First thing upon waking in the morning, it’s time for an orange, apple, and strawberries. He loves broccoli and cauliflower as long as it’s raw. Cook it and he won’t

cindy murphy
3/3/2009 7:55:31 PM

Thanks, Fiona! I finally did find how to blanch greens in my oxymoronic "Joy of Cooking" cookbook; silly me - it was listed under the section titled "blanching", instead of the section of spinach recipes. I'll be putting the information to good use this summer, (I hope). We always seem to have so much spinach and mustard greens that they bolt before we can eat or give them all away. Though I've never frozen either, I'm going to give it a try this year - it shouldn't be too difficult at all, provided Mother Nature cooperates in the bounty department. I've blanched tomatoes in years past; I prefer it over canning because it's not only much quicker, with less equipment involved, but I can take out only what I need for a meal from the freezer, instead of opening a jar of tomatoes, a jar of green beans, and whatever else, having to store the rest in the refrigerator until used. Good luck with your garden; I hope your harvest is bountiful.

3/3/2009 10:43:33 AM

Hi Cindy, Your questions for Debbie got me curious about freezing greens as I'm hoping to have such a bountiful harvest this summer that I'll be needing to do something with the excess! OK, truth be told, I'm hoping to have enough for our own table but that's another story. ANYWAYS, I have a great book on Freezing & Drying (Ortho Books) and the instructions for spinach and other greens are as follows: * wash thorough to remove sand and grit * water-blanch leaves 1 1/2 minutes (there's instructions on how to do this, if needed), stirring well * cool and pack. Greens may be chopped before packing if desired. Hope this helps! ~ cheers, Fiona

cindy murphy
2/27/2009 8:49:17 AM

I haven't had a great deal of luck growing lettuce either, Debbie - Buttercrunch is the one variety I've tried that seemed to grow well in my sandier soil. I have plans to grow lettuce in containers this year. That way I can use a richer soil, and move them out of the blazing sun that beats down on my vegie garden. Spinach and mustard greens do extremely well in my garden though, and I always end up with an over-abundance of both, (speaking of produce prices - have you checked the price on a bag of baby spinach leaves lately? It's almost $4.00 here!). I make salads out of both...and bonus! they are added to hot dishes too. Double-duty vegetables! I usually give away what we can't eat fresh, although this year I'll have to try freezing some. I wonder if it should be blanched first? My "Joy of Cooking" book, (which is kind of an oxymoron in my kitchen), doesn't say. If you come across anything about freezing greens in any of those books in your collection, I'd love to hear what's reccommended.