Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making Room for Lettuce

I murdered a cotoneaster today. It wasn’t an evil cotoneaster, it just didn’t contribute enough to my garden. It functioned beautifully for the hawthorn lace bugs that called it home, and I feel awful about giving them the heave-ho …well, not awful, but slightly empathetic. Ok, I don’t feel bad in the least … after all I provided them with food and shelter for ten long years, it’s time they learned to live without my largesse. It’s tough out there for us all!

But I digress (cleansing breath) … in place of the lace bug hotel I planted this bed of greens for the late summer and fall. From left to right I sowed my saved 'Loma' seeds, a blend of red lettuces from Territorial, 'Bergam's Green' , and another red lettuce (get it? green, red, green, red). I expect, with the soil as warm as it is, that germination will be spotty, so I’ll probably have to fill in some gaps. The perfect soil temperature for germinating lettuce is between 60 and 75 degrees. You can germinate the seed indoors where it’s cooler if (unlike me) you condition your summer air.

My plan is allow my pretty lettuces to grace my garden until the first frost, and then cover the bed with a modular cold frame, which is still in my head. If I’m lucky, and persuasive, I will get the help of one of my able sons to build it, or maybe even the help of one of my able sons’ able friends. Then I will have fresh salad greens for the first part of winter too!

Meanwhile, in the back 40 (feet) I am producing a bumper crop of lettuce seeds for next year. 

One of the very hardest things for a gardener to do is to allow a plant (and all you need is one or two) to go to seed. Now I’m not saying there’s not beauty in the sight of a lettuce plant in flower … but it ‘s not the harmonious kind of garden beauty. It’s more the sort a geologist might see in a roadcut, or a furniture crafter in an old burly tree. Here in PA my lettuce is at its full 5-ft height now; if you live in Texas or Missouri, the timing will likely be different.  In three or four weeks the seeds will be dry and I will cut down some stalks and put them in paper bags on my porch. (One thing I will not do is set the bag on the ground and allow thieving ants to chew little holes in the bottom and run off with my future salads). Some of the seedheads I’ll just leave on the stalk to break and scatter in fall. I’ve found that I get the very earliest spring lettuce from fall-scattered seed.

Did I mention that the evil cotoneaster also sheltered the pesky Indian mock strawberry weed that skulks around my hosta? I have no guilt. None at all.

Really I don’t.  

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