I am so impatient for the first garden lettuce. Shaking brownish-green chunks out of a salad bag into a bowl is no longer cutting it for me. I want real lettuce: dark red, lime green, oak leaf, or deer tongue. I wouldn’t even care if slugs and spiders lurked along the stems. I want the real thing.
My mother used to nurse little plants through the winter in sunny protected places. And just about this time of year, when the jonquils showed yellow and the camellias were blazing, her lettuce was there for the cutting. Crisp heads of bright lettuce were bursting right through the wires of old milk crates she had turned over them to keep her chickens from pecking the most tender leaves. For Sunday dinner there would be lettuce bathed in cream/vinegar dressing. Nothing ever tasted better.
There were years I even had lettuce volunteers in my own back yard. Here’s one of the most beautiful:
This cold, snowy winter of 2014 has not given lettuce plants any ideas about volunteering. The seeds I impulsively sowed next to the garage one warmish day a few weeks ago are mostly alive, but that’s as far as it goes. You can barely see a hint of green against the much-frozen dirt, even when I covered them with sheets on the coldest nights.
Soil-blocking and seed-starting are the way to get around this arctic impasse. While the snow and ice make another assault this week, I already have little chocolate-y squares warming their toes and holding tiny lettuce seeds to the fluorescent light.
For this job, I had the best of help. One boy put one seed precisely on each square till the tray was filled. One boy pressed a whole handful of seeds on the surface, convinced if one was good, a whole lot was better. Both methods suited the respective personalities to a T.
While the seeds sprout, we are biding our time, dreaming of a big beautiful bowl of lettuce that looks and acts and tastes the way lettuce was meant to.
On a side note, gardening tasks always go better with new purple gardening gloves. After the lettuce, spinach, and kale were planted by soil-blocker, John and Everett attacked some honeysuckle vines with clippers. If spring ever comes, the boys stand ready to tweak weeds from my lettuce plants. But until then, the glovesI gave them are not lying idle:
While you, too, wait for spring and fresh garden lettuce, you can get some of these XS gloves for the children in your life. Lisa has them here at the Gardener’s Workshop online shop! Happy Gardening!
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].