The cool, wet weather has forced me to hold off on planting tomatoes, but it has also extended our lettuce harvest..
Lettuce leaves love this weather. They are, after all, 94.9 percent water. And while many of us are eager to put on shorts, when the temperature goes above 75 lettuce reaches for the sky (or “bolts”) and develops a bitter taste. The 65-degree high temperature forecast for Monday and Tuesday will be ideal.
What are we going to do with all this lettuce? Unlike most vegetables, you can’t freeze it, can it, dry it or store it for more than a week. We have recipes for Lettuce Pie, Lettuce Soup and Lettuce Custard, but they just seem weird.
So we’re having large salads every night and giving away lettuce to friends. We’ll put some in a cooler and take it with us when we go on a trip next week, to give as hostess presents.
Betsy is the lettuce mistress in our household. In March, she planted lots of seeds (Fedco winter lettuce mix) and put them under fluorescent lights near a south-facing window. She transplanted them in mid-April into our fenced garden (sorry, rabbits).
In addition, lots of lettuce that she planted in early fall survived the winter, protected under cut-in-half overturned milk jugs and inside plastic-covered hoop houses.
In most years, our lettuce has been attacked by slugs, but I’ve seen none so far. Last winter, I turned over the soil in the garden just before every cold snap, hoping to expose and freeze out insect pests. Maybe this technique reduced the slug population.
Lettuce has an ancient and racy history. It was first cultivated by the Egyptians, who saw it as a symbol of sexual prowess, with women believing it promoted love and childbearing. Ancient Romans believed it increased sexual potency, but 19th-century British women believed it caused infertility.
In folk medicine, it has been prescribed for ailments such as rheumatism, tension, coughing and insanity, though there is no scientific proof that it works. It is known to be an excellent source of Vitamins K and A. Lettuce has mild narcotic properties, though these are more present in wild varieties than in cultivated ones.
It’s in the nature of gardening that some years you get a feast of a particular crop, and in others a famine. Last year’s drought was great for tomatoes, but the previous one the crop was decimated by late blight. This year, lettuce is our garden star so far.
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