Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Part I: Lettuce This and That

Red iceberg head lettuce (far superior to her green sister), 2014
Thanks to the Lettuce Entertain You folk, it is nearly impossible for me to think of a title for this blog entry without hearing the likes of "lettuce explain" or other fine examples of lettuce this or that. So instead, I opted to use my grey matter for the actual content of this piece.

It all boils down to this: we like head lettuce. This member of the daisy family (Asteraceae) is also a tried and true favorite for most Americans, so our desire to successfully grow these beauts is well-founded. We want happy members, after all. 

To that end, we've been determined to grow head lettuce for members since our inaugural year in 2012. Our annual objective has been to provide 12 weeks of lettuce for our members. Specifically, each spring and fall we grow three different varieties of head lettuce alongside our custom loose leaf lettuce mix. For the first six weeks of the season, and another six in the fall, we aim to alternate head lettuce and lettuce mix weekly, doubling up sometimes if we are lucky. That's the ideal.

Now, there are two potential questions that might arise after reading this. The first may come from previous members who struggle to recall many heads of lettuce in their shares. The second may come from any reader, member or not, who might question why we limit lettuce production to only 12 weeks of a 20 week season. Since both of these topics can fill an entire post, we're breaking this piece into two parts. We'll start with the first inquiry.

Throughout our mission to provide members with head lettuce each spring and fall, we have engaged in annual battles against one, or some combination, of the Three Deadly D's (drought, deer, and drowning, with deer being the most destructive). What farmer hasn't had to face at least one of these? And though we've had some minor successes (year one, spring), each year our head lettuce partially falls victim to one or more of these beasts. Great! Good to know. But we want lettuce, you say! Well, so do we. And we are hell-bent on having beautiful heads of lettuce for your eating pleasure. So what will set this year apart from the three prior? Honestly, two words make a world of difference: composting heavily.

Since we will be writing a future post on the wonders of compost, here's the short of it: the continual addition of compost improves soil structure, making it both better able to drain during heavy rain events, while also enabling it to retain water in times of drought. Seems contradictory, but that is the beauty of building healthy soil--one of the few examples in life where you can literally have it both ways. But that's not all! Compost also adds fertility and balances the microbiology in the soil, all helping to strengthen and nourish our plants. Fertility is key, especially with a plant like head lettuce. Lettuce is a heavy feeder, which means it is essentially very hungry for nutrients. It can still produce heads in deficient soil, but they might be smaller and a bit more ragged (year three, spring). We aim to do better by our lettuce.

Our experience farming this land last year showed us that the soil here is in desperate need of some aggressive TLC. Being that this is our first time staying put on the same land, we can really dig in and make substantial improvements to the soil. So, this spring we plan to add semi-loads of compost to our fields. We'll improve our soil instantaneously with such a heavy addition of organic matter, and our lettuce plants should be better off for it. Though compost can't really help us avoid the second of the Deadly D's, Deer (which greatly affected the lettuce crop in year two, both spring and fall), it can help us battle drought and drowning and will likely give us the upper hand in lettuce production this season. So members, get ready for some lettuce-liscious crunchin'!  And stay tuned for Part II of this piece to learn the reasons why we grow our lettuce only during certain parts of the season. In the meantime, snag a share while you can here!

If you're interested in reading Part II of this piece, click here.