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Posts Tagged ‘lettuce’

Back in early December, I wrote about seeding a ‘food meadow’ in my large garden plot. Fast forward a few months, and here is how it turned out: a great success!

Weeds have been light to non-existent, except for one small area where the sheet mulching was too shallow and grass came up. A light session of hand-weeding took care of that.

In this close-up, we see various bits of fennel, carrots, dill, and cilantro are showing their feathery tops above the lettuces. This salad in the making is making me hungry! Alas, it’s dark and rainy at the moment, so the greens are safe for now. Tomorrow, though, watch out!

I think the mixed-seed meadow idea has really done well, and I will be doing it again in subsequent years. To do it fully, I’d dedicate an area to it and let a few plants go to seed and keep reseeding themselves. I’m not going to go that far on my main garden bed… I think… but may let a lettuce or two seed out.

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Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers. Doesn’t that look scrumptious? A crisp, shiny rosette of tsa tsoi, a tangy Chinese green that makes excellent stir fry material.

The best part is that I’m getting these delicious winter greens with almost no work, and I won’t be composting them or digging out the planters to refill them with dirt for a second crop. I also don’t have to worry about scrubbing dirt out of my sink; a post-harvest rinse and I’m done. How can all this be? I’m growing them hydroponically!


A colorful head of forenschluss speckled lettuce, plus more tsa tsoi; I’d better start my next batch of seedlings, and harvest these beauties soon.

About a month ago I had an ‘aha!’ moment while cleaning up in the back yard. In an untidy pile were a bunch of 3-foot long self-watering planters, the long window-box type, sitting empty. They’re very shallow, so they’re only good for things with shallow roots. Another item that needed putting away for winter was a giant 2 cubic yard bag of perlite. It was purchased by accident when I wrote “perlite” instead of “vermiculite” on a shopping list for someone else. Wups. Perlite, though, is one of the better mediums for hydroponics. I knew that I still had a good-sized container of dry mix for hydroponics solution in my garden storage bench. A plan was born!


My favorite red mustard seedlings, about 2 weeks along, with assorted lettuces and some ruby chard. The brown is harmless algae– my fault for watering the seedlings directly from the top once. Note the handy little water level gauge built into this planter.

Now why did I have hydroponic fertilizer mix around? Some long-time readers may recall that when I lived in San Jose in 2003 and 2004, I had very little usable yard space for gardening– our rental’s sunny space was white pebble landscaping. Undaunted, and because I’d always been meaning to learn this stuff, I went out and got some hydroponic units and grew marvelous cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes, and peppers hydroponically. I’d started out buying gallon jugs of nutrient solution to dilute, but soon realized I was paying a lot for what was mostly water, and that buying dry mix would be better. A tiny bit goes a LONG way, so I still had plenty left over.


My San Jose hydroponic garden in late April 2004. Imagine everything tripled in size about 6 weeks later!

The main cloud around this hydroponics silver lining is that I don’t like using artificial nutrient mix. I want to try doing hydroponics on filtered compost tea– it should work just as well as the mix, as long as I dust some greensand into the perlite for extra minerals. I’ll try that in the spring, or next fall, now that I have a baseline to work from and compare.

Self-watering planters are a really excellent choice for lettuce and greens, as so much of the plant is dependent on abundant water to grow crisp and strong. Even if you don’t try hydroponics, it’s worth putting some lettuce or stir-fry greens into a self-watering planter and letting them party on. You’ll usually see a noticeable improvment in growth vs typical ground soil conditions.

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Just in time for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by the talented Pille, we celebrate the beginning of the fall and winter greens season with some heirloom lettuce and a great salad greens that is often overlooked: mustard!

The cool weather coming in is the best time for growing delicious green things for salads, sandwich layers, and garnishes. Our lettuces, which hid from the summer heat, are starting to peek out from where they self-seeded. In the meantime, we’ll plant to make up the difference!

Pictured here, on top of some Early Girl tomatoes (which are ripening late, under floating row cover), are fresh leaves of Forenschluss and Cimmaron romaines, and a crinkly red mustard leaf.

Mustard is the great “sleeper green” of the instant gourmet and adventuresome home gardener. Leaf mustard, unlike mustard grown for seed or as a cover crop, has broad leaves that range from mildly zingy to mule-kick strong. The variety I chose, sheerly for robust good looks, is Red Giant, and falls somewhere between those two extremes. I find the leaves by themselves too strong, but they layer nicely between a couple of romaine leaves in a lunchtime sandwich. The zingy pick-me-up of mustard leaves can let one skip the prepared mustard or mayo, handy for a bag lunch brought to work.

If you can grow lettuce, you can grow leaf mustard. Look for it on racks of Botanical Interests gorgeous illustrated seed packets, where Giant Southern and Giant Red are prominently displayed, as well as Mizuna, a sawtooth-leaved oriental cooking mustard green. In your local Asian market, look for “Gai Choi”. Mustards come in a gorgeous palatte of colors and textures, too. High Mowing’s Organic mustards include the stunning Purple Osaka and their striking “Hotshot” mix.

I picked up six-pack sets of lettuces and mustards at our community garden’s fall plant sale. Forenschluss, which means “Speckled Belly”, is a beautiful variegated romaine with an upright, compact habit. The bronze tones of Cimmaron go very well with Forenschluss, so I’ve planted them in alternating rows in my garden.

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