Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lettuce keep going

Fresh lettuce right from our garden continues to be on our evening menus.
And it is almost January. In Kansas.
The lettuce I picked a couple of days ago is almost gone. So my list of chores for the day includes “pick lettuce.” That might be a bit tricky, as the wind is howling. Gusts of up to 30 miles per hour were noted in the forecast for today.
Wind is not an ally when you must pull up large sheets of plastic to get at the lettuce.
Although the howl of the wind makes it sound bitterly cold outside, the actual temperature is over 60 degrees F. and climbing. I haven’t had a fire in our stove since late yesterday morning.
This will not last, though. Snow tomorrow and the forecast low for tomorrow night is in the low teens, with a high of 29 degrees on New Year’s Day.
Welcome to Kansas and its fickle weather.
Not that I am complaining. Last winter I got all of my exercise with almost daily snow shoveling.
At this moment I am waiting for boxes of garden seed to arrive, as I have already hit the mail order catalogs.
Lettuce -- naturally -- was a focus of my seed purchasing for the next growing season.
After reading through descriptions of dozens of varieties of lettuce, I finally settled on 14 varieties for this year. They won’t all be planted at the same time, as some were chosen for their heat tolerance and others were chosen for their ability to withstand cold. Some were put on my list simply because they look really cool or have a name that appealed to me.
Often thought of as simply a nutrition-poor base for salads, lettuce is actually fairly nutritious. It can’t compare to the nutrition in such things as kale or chard, but it is certainly not nutrition-free. The deeper the color of the lettuce, the more nutrition it has, since many of our nutrients are related to pigments found in foods. Romaine and loose leaf lettuce varieties tend to have the highest levels of nutrients, partly because sunlight can penetrate to the core leaves, giving them richer color.
The crisp head varieties, which include the ubiquitous iceberg lettuce, have significantly less of some nutrients than the other types.
Lettuce even has medicinal qualities.
That milky sap that oozes from the lower end of the middle ribs when you cut the lettuce, and is most abundant in mature lettuce plants, is where the medicinal nature of lettuce lies. It is most often used to induce sleep. The genus name of lettuce, Lactuca, and the name “lettuce” itself both are references to that milky sap.
Apparently, humans have cultivated lettuce for as long as 5,000 years. The ancient Egyptians cultivated a lettuce species that produces large seeds from which an oil is extracted. Modern Egyptians still use this plant. Ancient Romans were the ones who spearheaded the selection of lettuce varieties, the result of which is the mind-boggling number of varieties now available to us.
I am looking forward to testing and tasting these different lettuces, as well as trying new strategies in lettuce growing and being more diligent in already familiar strategies, such as thinning.
To show you that I am not absolutely 100 percent obsessed with lettuce, my seed purchases this winter also included some merely interesting vegetables, such as the Spring Blush Snap Pea (a PINK snap pea) and Salt and Pepper Cucumber (a pale colored cucumber that just looked beautiful in the catalog photo).
I will also do some experimentation this year with onions, searching for a variety that grows well here and can be stored for months without rotting.
Nobility, Gunnison, Copra and Prince are the yellow onion varieties I have selected for their reported long storage capability. Starting onion seed indoors in late January and transplanting in mid-March was successful this past year, so that is how I will test these varieties. Unfortunately, it will be a full year before the true success (long storage) can be assessed.
Stay tuned…

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