We have a funny relationship with lettuce!
We really like salads, but our Maine farm season doesn’t seem to lend itself to growing lettuce super-easily.
Late frosts bite tender seedlings. Cool springs stunt growth and then dry summers send them straight to bolting.
We attack this challenge with a broad variety of methods.
Of course, each year we work to improve our soil and our watering in an attempt to do a better job with our regular lettuce crop.
But we also try to plant lots of non-traditional, perennial, or low-maintenance lettuces, like nasturtium and chicory and New Zealand spinach.
Chicory is a delicious, tangy little lettuce. It’s very cold-hardy and all of last year’s plants came back, overwintering under a heavy mulch. When it eventually bolts, it produces these gorgeous blue flowers on stalks as tall as I am!
We can also harvest the roots and roast them for coffee.
Nasturtiums form little round leaves that look like lily-pads. They are good in salads and can even be used to make wraps. The tropical-orange flowers look like hummingbirds, attract hummingbirds, and are a colorful, spicy addition to soups, salads, and anything-else-you-can-think-of.
Every year, they produce lots and lots of seeds for the next year’s planting.
And then, we let lots of our lettuces go to seed. Instead of harvesting them as heads-of-lettuce, we just keep pinching leaves individually as they slowly develop into tall stalks. They ultimately flower and form seedheads.
This way, we still get our salads, but we also get extra seed, some of which we will collect and some of which will self-sow.
These seeds often sprout in unexpected places, giving us a bonus crop of random lettuces scattered throughout the farm to supplement what may have gone wrong in our assigned lettuce-bed.
Trial and error is a way of life on the homestead. Do what you can – and see what bears fruit!
by Sydney Michalski