Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

a pot full of lettuces

I was tempted to post another knotweed recipe today. (I started a batch of wine this morning!) But since it's possible you may not all share my fascination with foraging, I thought I'd get off my wild foods horse and talk about lettuce. Because despite our two days of 90 degree weather last week, this is lettuce season.

Lettuce is wonderfully suited to city gardens for several reasons:

1) City gardens are usually small, and city gardeners have to make the most of their limited space. Lettuce has a small footprint. A 24 inch pot can hold 12-15 heads of lettuce. Really.
2) With a shallow root system, lettuce grows blissfully well in containers; 8 inches of depth will suffice. If all you have is a few pots on a terrace or stoop, lettuce won't know the difference.
3) It's an early (cool weather) crop, so you can re-use the container later in the season for a second, warm weather vegetable. When your lettuce starts to bolt (i.e. it gets leggy, bitter, and sets flower buds), the weather and soil are warm enough for eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers, all of which thrive in high heat. What could be more efficient than using one container to produce two edible crops?
4) No store bought lettuce compares with home grown. When your salad was picked a mere 10 minutes before serving the taste is incomparable: sweet, succulent, and alive.

It's too late to start seed now for a spring crop, but flats and plugs of small plants are available at almost every garden center and big box store. You can also buy seeds now to plant in September for a fall harvest.

Lettuces grow best in full sun and moist soil, but if your garden is partly shady, they're still worth trying. The heads may not get to be as large and full as the heads you see at the green market, but with 4 hours of sun you'll still produce some choice edibles.

Notice the netting? If you have a problem with pigeons, you may want to cover your greens. I've seen city pigeons decimate a leafy crop in a matter of minutes; don't let it happen to you.

Try a combination of lettuces: red sails, romaine, green leaf, butterhead, and some arugula for a little bite. And if you enjoy foraging (anyone?) throw in a few garlic mustard leaves, watercress, and some chickweed. You'll never look at a supermarket salad bar again.


SaraGardens said...

I was going to quibble that it's not too late to plant for a spring crop... but I marched myself out to look at my seedlings, and your lettuces are much, much, much more magnificent! I plant several times a season, and don't wait till September - I think that works better in the shady kitchen garden ;)

Ellen Zachos said...

I remember your rotating micro greens last year...how lovely to have fresh lettuce all summer long.

Claudia said...

My lettuces are pretty small right now, but I've also started another batch of wine. This one is Starfruit(carambola)Lemon Mead, and I want to hear how your knotweed wine comes out.

Ellen Zachos said...

Hi Claudia,

Knotweed wine is one of my favorites; it's medium sweet and has a silky feel in the mouth. It has a lovely, deep gold color, and a friend once compared it to a sauterne. It also finishes faster than many fruit wines and is ready to drink in about 6 months. Your starfruit lemon mead sounds delicious!

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