Kitchen Garden

Lettuce from the Grocer

Iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing and black pepper.

When there were decent heads of organic iceberg lettuce at the grocer I bought one. We usually don’t eat lettuce unless we grow it. Iceberg lettuce is much maligned and actually pretty good. It made a nice winter treat.

I placed the unopened bag on a refrigerator shelf where it rested for a week. It yielded some wilted leaves for soup and four 3/4-inch slabs like the one in the photo.

We like the lettuce my farmer friends and I grow. With implementation of row cover in my garden, the kitchen had the leafy greens most of the season. I can’t imagine buying another bag of loose, mixed greens at the market. It is never as good as home grown and recalls for contamination have been too frequent. The whole head of iceberg was just the pick-me-up needed to inspire spring planting.

Garden planning is proceeding slowly yet I know what I’m doing about lettuce. I had about twelve feet of row cover last year. Under it I planted radicchio, lettuce and herbs. This year I have materials for 36 feet of row cover.

I expect to do a better job of rotational lettuce planting so I don’t have too many heads ready at the same time. I count nine varieties of lettuce in my seed drawer. Of those, Magenta is our favorite. I also have a stack of arugula seeds, six varieties. I’d like to get to the point where arugula grows wild so no planting is required. I hear tales of chefs who dug up wild arugula (a.k.a. Rocket) and transplant it to a raised garden plot where it thrives. If I could succession plant it this year, that would be good enough for 2022.

Lettuce is a cash crop for local farmers. They sell it to restaurants and make good margin. It seems normal to pay $5 for a bag of local lettuce at the farmers market. As long as I grow my own, it’s a bargain.

Because of high winds I’ve been indoors all day. Gusts approached 40 miles per hour, began around midnight, and continued all day. A small snow drift formed across the driveway.

I had the last of the iceberg lettuce for lunch. While eating it I thought I’m ready for spring.

Kitchen Garden

Lettuce Progress

Magenta and Bibb lettuce, May 25, 2021.

This year’s spring lettuce crop beat expectations. I harvested a lot and the heads are healthy-looking. I set a wheel barrow with lettuce at the end of the driveway to share the abundance with neighbors. Only a couple found homes but I’m happy to place any of it. I’m not really marketing either.

I seem to have cracked the code for growing lettuce. Here’s what I am seeing.

It began with selecting variety. Magenta from Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a good summer crop lettuce and that’s most of what’s in the photo. I also procured five other varieties, which I’m trying in succession.

The germination heating pad made a big difference. Seeds germinated more quickly and that resulted in more viable starts. I recycled some nine-cell seed starter trays and that’s the right size per succession crop for our household. Before last frost I transplanted to larger containers and now I’m planting from the nine-cell trays directly into the soil.

Lettuce under row cover.

What appears to have made the biggest difference is planting lettuce under row cover. The heads grew quickly to maturity and the soil remains fertile with addition of composted chicken manure crumbles. The row cover also protects lettuce from excessive sunlight and from insects. I’ve grown lettuce from seedlings before, but never like this, with big heads and a high seedling success rate.

I did a financial analysis of gardening as a potential source of income and lettuce would be a key component. People will pay more for organically grown lettuce fresh from the garden. I haven’t thought much about taking it to the farmers’ market before, but after this spring, I can see a path to selling some of it next year.

A gardener is always observing the results of their work, trying new things, and staying up to date on tools and techniques available to improve cropping. When one hits on a success, like this lettuce crop, the work seems worth it.

Think I’ll have a celebratory salad for breakfast.

Kitchen Garden

Salad Days

Garden salad.

A retro post from April 21, 2012.

We can’t force language to mean what we want. There is a social aspect of words and meaning that is undeniable and inflexible in the day to day parlance of natives. While over time, meanings change, and old words gain new meanings, when we talk about our salad days, it has a certain meaning here in Big Grove.

Shakespeare said it in 1606 in “Anthony and Cleopatra,” “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…” The idiom came to mean a period of youthful inexperience or indiscretion. Around our house, it means the lettuce planted in early March is mature and over the next six weeks, we will have a lot of days of eating salad, our salad days.

If I were to commercialize our garden, lettuce would be important. At $3 per bag at the farmers market, the price is right to sell a lot of it. Too, there is a local restaurant market for fresh greens. What is not figured into the equation is the labor involved in picking and cleaning the greens, but with proper planting and marketing, a person could take in $60 to $100 per sales day from greens.

For now, we enjoy our salad days, knowing they won’t last long in the span of life. Last night the greens were topped with thinly sliced carrot and golden raisins. I found a bottle of store bought dressing in the refrigerator and used that. There are chives, sage, garlic and oregano in the garden, ready to be picked, chopped and added to the greens. There is almost always cheese to be crumbled on top. There are cans of kidney and garbanzo beans in the pantry. A host of variations on a theme as the salad days commence. My meaning, not Shakespeare’s.

Kitchen Garden

Belgian Lettuce 2020

Belgian lettuce patch with arugula

Today I planted Belgian lettuce. There is nothing particularly “Belgian” about the seeds. According to my maternal grandmother it is called Belgian lettuce because it is planted March 2. It’s the tradition and that’s that.

I planted arugula as well because when everything is mixed together in a salad it will taste great. I planted:


Mesclun Mix of Seven Varieties, Ferry-Morse, 40-80 days.


Arugula/Roquette Heirloom Variety, Ferry-Morse, 40 days.
Rocket Salad Coltivata Da Orto, Ferry-Morse, 60 days.

The ground was still frozen about an inch below the surface, so no other planting today. This morning’s activities signal the beginning of the garden.

Kitchen Garden

Thursday Between Storms

Onion Starts in Containers

The morning was brilliant. Not only the sun, but life all around us as I worked in the garden on what has become a rare sunny morning this season. The sky is now clouding up with scattered thunderstorms forecast this afternoon. We are in between storms.

I direct-planted Early Scarlet Globe Radishes from Ferry-Morse, 25 days. I also planted the last of the onion starts from the farm for scallions.

The ground is saturated. I took down the chicken-wire fence around the early spring plantings and water was evident near the surface — under the grass in the walkway around it. It felt squishy.

Footprint between turnips and carrots.

The plot urgently needed weeding. I obliged, filling my bushel basket with weeds several times. I harvested the last of the first radishes, turnips, arugula and four kinds of lettuce. Even with competition the original plantings are looking great: beets, turnips, sugar snap peas, lettuce, arugula and carrots. While ground moisture made it easier to weed, by walking on it I added to compression that already existed. The plants look robust but I’m not sure how the excess ground moisture will impact yield.

In the kitchen I’m planning some kind of turnip-arugula dish with dinner. A classic is shaved turnips with arugula tossed in a dressing of homemade cider vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper. I have plenty of turnips, but only two cups of arugula. (I had forgotten I planted arugula). The other option is to braise the turnips in butter then toss them with the arugula and maybe some other kind of cooking greens. Seems the dish would need garlic. Maybe I could make a dressing with the cooking remains, minced garlic and some cider vinegar. Or maybe I could toss the whole works with some of the lettuce harvested today. While there’s no certainty, there are possibilities. This is how a kitchen garden works.


I’m not giving up on the garden. I considered mud planting the celery then thought the better of it. The ground is just too wet. So I wait.

It is surprising how just a few hours in the garden finds work for idle hands, clearing the fog of storm-related stress away. I’m not sure when the weather pattern began but is has been weird since the beginning of January. I expect we are only seeing the beginning of the weirdness. That is no reason to stop living.

I planted reserved seedlings of Blue Wind broccoli where others had failed. The plot is under the locust tree and one corner of it may be a problem for anything to grow. We should get some broccoli, and if the slow-starting seedlings mature, it will be in progression. We love fresh broccoli.

I find myself referring to these garden posts frequently to review when something was planted. There is value in trying to remember what I did on Thursday morning. There is hope of a delicious dinner made partly by the work of my hands. That’s why I am a gardener.

Kitchen Garden

First Dig

Abandoned Silo

On Monday I inspected the garden plots and the ground remained too cold and wet.

Later in the week I made the first dig and the soil was clean of frost the 10-inch length of the divot. There were earthworms too. We’re getting close.

I finished pruning the apple trees and began to make a burn pile.

At the farm I planted:


Bloomsdale Long Standing, Ferry – Morse, 45 days.
Teton Hybrid, Ferry – Morse, 50 days.


Buttercrunch, Ferry – Morse, 70 days.
Black Seeded Simpson, Ferry – Morse, 45 days.

Everything planted in the greenhouse has germinated, except the parsley.

Summary: Total of five trays in the greenhouse and all appear to be doing well. The ground should be ready for digging a row of earlies (lettuce, carrots, turnips and beets) this week.

Kitchen Garden

A Blustery Day with Lettuce

Belgian Lettuce Harvest
Belgian Lettuce Harvest

Holy cats it was windy yesterday!

My to-do list was long, the weather sunny and dry, and danger for frost long past.

It was time to focus on planting.

The blustery day took its toll long before everything was erased from the white board.

As readers can see from the diagram, indecision plagued execution of the planting. In the end, I planted more kale than expected (26 plants of three varieties in two rows) and left the rest open. The morning after, I plan to wait until the soil warms a bit and plant a long row of hot peppers (5 varieties, spaced 18 inches in a 19-foot row) and finish with two rows of red beans in this plot. While I planned to work two plots, the wind took my energy before starting the second and the clock timed out.

Saturday Plan
Saturday Plan

I slept nine hours last night.

Later this morning it’s back to work at the farm. Most seedlings will be outside seasoning while I’m gone as the tray-based numbers diminish and move to the soil.

Life is not only about gardening as much as some days I wish it were.

My solar-powered garden radio pulled in a signal with The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart while I was breaking up the clods of turned soil with a hoe. After my shower, I found this bar-graph version of the overture, which helped me better understand the music.

Kitchen Garden

First Spade of Soil

Close View of the Garden Before Tilling
Close View of the Garden

The first spadeful of earth was waterlogged. There was no frost more than a foot deep, so I’ll be ready to plant lettuce March 2.

My maternal grandmother called this planting “Belgian lettuce.” I follow the tradition whenever conditions permit. Reserving some lettuce seeds to plant in trays, the rest will be broadcast in a small plot. I will also plant some turnips — mostly for the greens.

The calendar shows it is winter, but spring is everywhere.

Kitchen Garden

Garden Fences

Spring Lettuce
Spring Lettuce

Here’s what is surprising. The vegetables outside the garden fences are mostly untouched by rabbits, deer and other critters. Some behind fences are getting nibbled.

Who knew I could leave lettuce, turnips, carrots, radishes, spinach and other plants unfenced and the animals would stay away. Maybe I’m just lucky… or maybe someone knows an answer.

Next garden workday I’ll harvest and see how it goes the rest of the season.

Home Life Kitchen Garden Work Life

Hacking Through


It’s been a tough couple of weeks complicated by a lingering and persistent impulse to void the rheum of excess mucus. I don’t feel ill for the most part, but the coughing has been terrible.

Missing work without sick pay means less income and a further exploration of the life of low wage workers. Well into the experiment in alternative lifestyle, I don’t see how people can make ends meet, even working three jobs as I have been doing this spring. That said, I won’t give up and expect to continue hacking through this rough patch—literally.

I picked lettuce, spinach and radishes from the garden the last two nights and made a frittata for dinner with greens from the CSA, spring garlic and onions. It was satisfying served with a salad, and there were leftovers. Already garden production is worth savoring. Between now and Memorial Day, the focus is on getting the spring planting done.

For the moment that’s all there is to say except change is coming. To make this life more sustainable, to improve our economic base. How change will look is an open question. I look forward to seeing how it comes together.