Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday Dose of Cat Cute: Growing and Harvesting Heat Tolerant Lettuce (and The Whole Picture)

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (1) - FarmgirlFare.com

Lots more below. . .

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (2) - FarmgirlFare.com

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (3) - FarmgirlFare.com

That Jasper. He loves to be in my kitchen garden beds, and I finally figured out one of the reasons why: the lure of the cat-level petting hand. As soon as I crouch down and start to work, he shows up.

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (3a) - FarmgirlFare.com

The other night I sneaked out to the garden to pick some spring onions for dinner, and he was nowhere in sight. Oh good, I thought, I can finally pull a few weeds out of the onion bed without him terrorizing it. Not ten seconds later he came crashing through the rows of onions and landed at my hand.

"JAS-PER!"

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (4) - FarmgirlFare.com

The thing is, it's hard to stay mad when he gives you that cute look while purring up a storm. The guy has no clue that he wreaks havoc wherever he goes.

These photos were actually taken back on May 23rd. It took me a while to find them because I couldn't believe I've been picking lettuce from this bed for so long.

On September 20th of last year (yes! I actually wrote it down!) I direct seeded half of this 4'x8' raised bed with Rocky Top lettuce mix from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, which I've been growing and loving for years.

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (5) - FarmgirlFare.com

All the lettuce plants you see here were from last year's sowing, but they didn't germinate until early spring. I love surprise free food. When I harvest lettuce from bigger heads like this I just snip off some of the leaves, as opposed to a mass planting of baby lettuce, where I pull out small handfuls of whole plants to make more room for the remaining ones, then cut off all the dirt and roots right there in the garden.

Like Swiss chard, lettuce is a 'cut and come again' plant, and will just keep producing. These awesome $10 take apart kitchen and garden shears are perfect for harvesting lettuce—and so many other things. I use them so much I bought a second pair.

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (6) - FarmgirlFare.com

When it started really warming up, I clipped an old bed sheet over those metal hoops to create some shade and keep the lettuce (and Jasper) a little cooler. Lettuce is a cool season crop and will bolt and turn bitter in the heat. It is so disappointing to see a beautiful bed of lettuce that looks fine but tastes terrible. When I buy individual varieties of lettuce seed, I always go for the ones that say they're heat tolerant and slow to bolt. My current favorite: Parris Island Cos ($2.50 for 1 ounce from Baker Creek).

I took what I thought was the final cutting of lettuce from this bed a week (probably two) ago when it started getting really hot, and I cut off most of the leaves from each plant but left the base of the plants in the ground. Harvesting lettuce this way also makes washing your lettuce much easier, as you leave all of the dirt out in the garden.

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (7) - FarmgirlFare.com

Around May 24th (no notes this time), I planted some eggplant, tomato, and basil seedlings between the lettuce. After what I thought was the final lettuce harvest a few weeks later, I took the shade sheet off so those heat loving plants could soak up some sun.

The hacked off lettuce plants all grew back (I did keep watering them), but since they've been frying in full sun and 90+ degree heat, I figured they would all be bitter. Today I went to yank them out for the chickens so I could heavily mulch the entire bed with sheep manure (which is a great fertilizer) and bedding hay (and rabbit pellets!) from the barn.

The lettuce looked so nice I took a few test nibbles, and to my surprise it tasted good. A couple of the varieties had a hint of bitterness—less than some varieties of bitter greens.

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (8) - FarmgirlFare.com

I filled a colander twice this size, enough for several more beautiful salads. The chickens got Swiss chard.

Growing gourmet lettuce and gardening with Jasper (9) - FarmgirlFare.com

The best part? It was way too hot today for hand chasing.

More of The Whole Picture Series? Here.

Love salads?
How To Grow Your Own Swiss Chard from Seed & Why You Should (for one thing, it's really heat tolerant)

© FarmgirlFare.com, where I sometimes dream about having a cat-free garden, but then I think about how boring it would probably be.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Susan,
    Dumb question #4,287: I'm interested in learning more about how you direct sow the gourmet lettuce. It appears that the seeds were sown on the surface of the raised bed soil and you mulched over them then-- is this correct? And is that mulch salt hay? I appreciate your answers very much-- I'm a pretty experienced ornamental gardener, but have not yet dived into vegetables. Next spring, watch out! And that Jasper, by the way, certainly does have a beautiful expression and such unusually colored eyes; they look blueish grey.


    And finally, your posts have a much 'lighter' and happier feel to them than the same time last year. While I'm interested in hearing what's going on in your farm life regardless, it's lovely to extrapolate from your posts that life appears to have eased up a bit for you and Joe. You go!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tracy,
      When I direct seed lettuce I dig up the soil so it's nice and loose, scatter the seeds, water lightly to get nice seed to soil contact, then cover them with a thin layer of compost (or soil). Water well but lightly so you don't wash the seeds away.

      The lettuce in this bed was mulched with grass clippings after it was growing to keep weeds from sprouting. The reason I usually sow my lettuce seeds in a big thick patch is because we have a big problem with weeds, and they can't compete with the lettuce 'carpet' that sprouts up.

      You might find this post on my garden blog helpful: How To Grow Your Own Gourmet Lettuce from Seed

      I say dive head first in to the edible gardening pool - I think you'll love growing vegetables!

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  2. That Jasper is a rascal! Such a pretty kitty. Congratulations on getting your tomato and basil planted! I'm trying tomatillos this year for the first time and have high hopes. Also trying red leaf amaranth for a hot weather salad green from seeds I brought from California, purchased 10 years ago and still viable! Glad your lettuce is holding up. It looks beautiful.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Cary,
      He is such a character. He's completely taken over the farm. Homegrown tomatillos are wonderful - I totally spaced them out this year. I have good luck growing them here - they do better than tomatoes in our area. They love the heat and aren't bothered by pests. They can also be really prolific - just a few plants can give you LOTS of tomatillos. Remember to wait to pick them until they've filled out their papery husks - then get out a giant pot and cook up some salsa verde!

      Delete
  3. Wow, good to hear that you were able to get another cutting from the lettuce, just watch out for the cat hair!! LOL!!
    What a sweet boy ol' Jasper is! It would be very difficult indeed to ignore that 'please pet me' look!! :)

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  4. What a cutie Jasper is! I can't get enough of him. Our lettuces, kale, and swiss chard are just peeking out of the ground. I actually started growing swiss chard last year because of your encouragement, Susan. You said it was easy and delicious and you were right! Happy Gardening!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Karla,
      Woohoo - another Swiss chard convert! So glad you're loving it. I don't know what I would do without Swiss chard in the garden - best green to grow ever. :)

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  5. Jasper is just a peach, I love him already. My hand is always ready for petting. :-)

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  6. Jasper is completely ADORABLE. I don't know how you get any work done when that sweet pusskins asks you for some lovin'.

    Sue

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  7. Jasper is so cute! I have a tuxedo cat named Sylvester that likes to follow me around the garden. We have been harvesting so much lettuce lately. I can't remember the variety we planted, but it has done really well up until this week when it started to bolt. I cut the plants all down to the ground and hopefully they will come back. I'll have to try out that variety of lettuce you mentioned!

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  8. Hi Everybody,
    Thanks for all the fun comments. So glad you enjoyed this post!

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  9. Gotta love the ginger kitties.. I think they're all suckers for a good petting. :)

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