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Posts Tagged ‘lettuce’

Food in my Kitchen Garden!

Young pears

Anywhere I point a camera at the pear tree it captures an image with many pears. I’ve never seen so many pears on the tree in a season. If they reach maturity, I’ll have a lot of preserving to do!

As I rushed around a week ago Friday getting ready to drive to Ithaca, I captured images that demonstrate food is happening in the garden. I was happy seeing so much progress early in the season but I must not have been wearing my reading glasses.

You see, when I capture photos, I can’t tell immediately whether they’re well-framed, in focus, or properly exposed. Even with reading glasses, the tiny view screen on my camera can make blurred images seem sharp. I discovered when I reached Ithaca that the tiny view screen conceals all kinds of unexpected details. The shocking truth appears in the last photo of this post.

I wish I’d downloaded the photos before I left home so I’d spotted the problem while I could do something about it. I remain optimistic. Perhaps this was an isolated problem that will simply have gone away by the time I get home. No, I don’t believe that. What I believe is that someone else has beaten me to the first peas of the season. Rats.

Lettuce patch

With only a few plants mature, we’ve eaten a reasonable amount of lettuce salad—mostly from plants I’ve removed to thin the patch. I planted nearly exclusively romaine varieties this year. I like the crispness and it seems every year there are more shades of romaine from which to choose.

Basil babies

One of my favorite sprouts, basil, came on strong about six days after I set seed. This is a purple variety, and there is classic green Genovese basil about six inches to the right (not in the photo). I planted six varieties, most from seeds Renee’s Garden gave me to try.

Early tomato blossoms

This is totally crazy, but there are already blossoms on my tomato plants. Well… only the Stupice plants have blossoms, but that’s as it should be. Stupice is a “cool weather” variety that matures in about 55 days! There’s some chance the first will ripen by June 30th, but most certainly I’ll be harvesting in July. That has never happened in my small kitchen garden.

Sweet pepper baby

If tomato blossoms in early June aren’t crazy enough, I found a sweet pepper on its way to maturity. This must have developed from the one flower that had opened before I set the seedlings in the garden. Still, I’ve been impressed that my pepper plants didn’t seem to notice I ripped them out of communal planters and set them into my planting beds. There was no wilting and no apparent slowdown in growth.

Pea pod and aphids

The photo that made me shudder when I loaded it onto my computer and looked at it full-screen is of my first pea pod of the season. One plant flowered about three days ahead of the others. On this day (June 6), two pea rows were green hedges smothered in white flowers. In the middle of it all was this tiny green pod I captured in pixels. Casual inspection of the closeup revealed quite a community of aphids apparently enjoying the little pod.


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Community Garden Ithaca

Potato sprouts in a community garden

Just inside the gate of Ithaca’s community garden is a planting bed along the base of the fence. Many types of plants were sprouting there; my favorites were potatoes.

Sunshine and 76 degrees! What gardener wouldn’t take advantage of such a day? Except my garden was 130 miles away. I did what I could: visited Ithaca’s community garden.

I’ve visited the community garden several times this spring and had been underwhelmed at how slowly it has gotten started. Few plots had cool weather crops planted back when weather was reliably cool. Now, as temperatures occasionally spike to summer highs, cool weather crops are in and they have a race to win! If June brings hot days, Ithacans may come up short on spinach, lettuce, and peas.

Well… we do what we can. The photos provide an idea of what’s up in Ithaca.

Lettuce patch in a community garden

There are patches of lettuce throughout the community garden. The colors in this patch set it apart from the others.

CD scarecrow in a community garden

This allotment uses shiny CDs as scarecrows. The CDs hang above a small lettuce patch which I suspect won’t interest birds at all. However, perhaps rabbits and other large rodents have access to the community garden and have some fear of shiny baubles.

Rhubarb and strawberries in a community garden

Once you’re gotten an allotment at Ithaca’s community garden, you get first dibs on it year-after-year. Some growers plant perennials and this combination is a classic: strawberries and rhubarb. While I encourage gardeners not to let rhubarb flower (flowering stresses the plant), the plants can put on a dramatic show if you let them.

Sage in a community garden

Many years ago I grew a few sage plants from seed. I eventually moved the mature plants from a wooden half barrel container into an herb garden I established at the corner of my house. Those plants died over the 2013-2014 winter… they’d look about like the sage plant in this photo—clearly the product of many years’ growth. The spiky leaves in front are garlic plants started last autumn.

Rhubarb in a community garden

These are two of the prettiest rhubarb plants I’ve seen. They’re growing at the back of an allotment and garlic grows behind them in the adjacent plot.

Radish patch in a community garden

I watched a small Burmese community work on this allotment about two weeks ago and was surprised now to see all the sprouts so far look like radishes! I learned several Burmese families rent space in the community garden and they often converge on one allotment much as an Amish community assembles to build a barn.

Peas and trellis in a community garden

Here’s a pea patch managed by someone who understand peas! Often, people plant just a short row of peas with fairly loose spacing. Here, the gardener planted peas close together—from plant-to-plant within a row, and from row-to-row. As the vines climb the trellises, they’ll create a pea jungle that produces enough peas or pea pods for several meals.

Mint in a community garden

Were I managing a community garden, I would enforce the following rule without mercy: PLANT NO MINT IN THE GROUND. If you grow mint on your allotment, do your neighbors a favor and plant the mint in a container tall enough that the plants never touch the ground. This one would pass inspection. I wrote about mint’s aggressive “conquer all” nature here: Protect Your Garden from Mint.

Tulips in a community garden

One allotment at Ithaca’s community garden had a striking row of tulips alongside a stand of mint. I loved to tulips. I wanted to fine the allotment’s owner for planting mint.

Shelves of squash in a community garden

This allotment’s owner has a terrific idea: grow more in limited space by going vertical. The containers on this tower contain squash plants—way too many for the space unless they’re compact varieties. I can see a problem if this catches on. Plant skyscrapers may prevent sunlight from reaching plants on the ground… I’d hate to have an allotment neighboring a wall of these structures.

Tidy allotment in a community garden

One allotment at Ithaca’s community garden is clearly as much about design as it is about growing food. The owner has fenced the space and created raised beds that spiral in from the gate. All is tidy and well-kept…

Gardener wanted in a community garden

This is not a meadow. It’s an allotment at Ithaca’s community garden. Can’t say whether it’s rented and the owner is getting a slow start, or the chives are up for grabs. If you live in Ithaca and you want to grow vegetables, perhaps you’ll find an opening at the community garden.

Small Kitchen Garden blog

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Finally there’s Soil in my Small Kitchen Garden

When your broccoli seedlings remain in their very limited planter about a month too long, they might produce disappointing florets. This tablespoon-sized floret represents what each of my plants produced about three weeks after I finally set them in the garden. It didn’t help that I set the seedlings in soil that was nearly mud… or that several days of subsequent rain kept the roots far too wet. Perhaps as things dry out the plants will send up enough side shoots to make a decent meal.

Since planting season started some three months ago, I’ve reported again and again that there is no soil in my small kitchen garden. That’s right: where, every growing season for the past sixteen years there has been soil, this growing season nature replaced my soil with mud.

My Earliest Starts

I managed to plant cauliflower and broccoli three weeks ago while the mud was a bit dry (as mud goes). Sadly, the plants had been pot bound long enough that they were flimsy… and further rains stressed the plants once they were in the ground.

For the first time ever, I saw a rabbit chewing on one of my vegetable plants. In 17 years of kitchen gardening in Lewisburg, I’ve had rabbits nest in my garden and I’ve watched many of them feed on my weeds. This year the rabbits decided that broccoli and cauliflower taste good. I’ve since mended my garden fence.

Within ten days of getting their roots in the ground, my broccoli plants sent up center stalks bursting with florets… tiny florets any one of which would make a single forkful on a dinner plate. Had I harvested from ten plants, I’d have gotten a single serving of broccoli.

Then a rabbit decided that brassicas taste better than native plants and had a few meals in the mud.

My Small Kitchen Garden is Coming On!

There have been a few positives about this growing season:

  • I planted all the lettuce seedlings in planters on my deck and, though the lettuce is a tad bitter because of early heat, we’re eating fresh salads pretty reliably.
  • I started artichokes indoors. When I planted the brassicas, I also set five artichoke seedlings in the garden. Actually, I set three in a new bed near my rhubarb, one in the back of the new herb bed, and two in a two-gallon planter on the deck. One of the plants has already put out a choke.
  • Cilantro I seeded in part of the new herb bed is coming on strong. I’ll do a second planting in a week or so.
  • The volunteer dill seedlings I moved from my main planting bed into the herb garden are filling out nicely.
  • Thyme and tarragon I started from seed last year and set in the herb garden in the fall are growing strong. I may want to add more thyme plants this season.
  • The sage bushes I moved from an old half-barrel planter into the new herb bed in the fall have filled out and may soon need some serious pruning.
  • The mud is gone, replaced by soil. I’ve planted 55 tomato seedlings in the main planting bed and more than 24 chili pepper seedlings of four varieties.

It’s two months later than in past years, but my small kitchen garden is finally on its way!

I’d never grown lettuce in containers, but when my raised planting bed remained mud for the first two months of the growing season, I realized I’d have no homegrown lettuce if I didn’t try something new. We’ve had several garden salads but it has been very hot. Chances are the lettuce will bolt soon; I’ll probably plant again in August and hope to have plenty of fresh salads well into November.


Not my best photographic work, but clearly a choke has formed in my small kitchen garden. I love photos I’ve seen of artichoke plants, so I decided to grow some this year. I hope I see more food on them, but I’ll be happy if the plants mature and look at least vaguely like the ones I’ve seen on other blogs.


Yes, the soil is dry and weeds abound, but the dill seedlings I rescued from my main planting bed are thriving in my new herb bed. Cilantro I direct-seeded grows at the left front of the photo, and sage grows at the rear of the photo. Out of sight at the far end of the bed, thyme and tarragon plants are growing very nicely.


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Seedlings Want IN to my Small Kitchen Garden

I figure to set tomato seedlings in the garden in late May so I started seeds at the beginning of April. I love how a tomato sprout pushes up a section of stem and then eventually pulls its leaf tips free.

As a kitchen gardener, I get excited when the first seeds sprout in my office each spring. If I manage things well, those sprouts are lettuces and brassicas (cauliflower and broccoli). They can go into the garden more than a month before cold-sensitive crops such as tomatoes and chili peppers, and it’s great to give them a head start so they have plenty of productive time outdoors before summer heat shuts them down.

My Small Kitchen Garden is a Lake

I planted several varieties of lettuce in early March along with a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower seeds. They came on well, and I figured to plant them outdoors in late March or early April—about when I started tomatoes and peppers in my office.

I started four types of lettuce near the beginning of March. The Summer Crisp and Purple Leaf lettuces in this planter should have gone in the garden two or three weeks ago. We’d be eating fresh garden salads if we’d had about six inches less rain in the past month.

Here’s the thing: my planting bed has been too wet to garden. The longest gap between rainstorms in the past six weeks has been, perhaps, three days. Each storm has lasted at least 12 hours and deposited enough water to saturate the soil and leave puddles on top.

When I first plunged a garden fork into the soil and pressed down on the handle to loosen things up for my lettuce seedlings, there was a loud sucking noise. My soil contains a lot of clay, so if I work it when it’s wet I might just as well be making pottery as tilling.

My tomato seedlings are getting big enough to set outdoors and I’ll probably transplant them to larger pots in ten days or so. In the meantime, my lettuce and brassica seedlings are getting really annoyed. They desperately want out of their planters and into the garden.

The cauliflower and broccoli plants look nearly large enough to put up their central florets. If the garden doesn’t dry out in the next few days, I’ll move the plants into large pots on my deck; I’ve never grown cauliflower and broccoli in planters, but I’m confident they’ll do well that way.

Because the garden continues to remain under water, I may need to set my lettuce seedlings in individual pots and manage them on my deck. Otherwise, it may be so hot by the time the garden is ready that the seedlings will bolt and there won’t be any lettuce to harvest.

Broccoli and cauliflower are a bit more heat-tolerant, and they can go in the garden later. However, they also need more space for roots, so if these rain storms continue I’ll be potting up the brassicas about when I pot up the tomatoes.

Usually I push the season a bit and get my plants in the ground too early. The way 2011 is developing, I can’t get them in the ground early enough. With luck, the rain will let up before June and I’ll be able to set out tomato and pepper seedlings without resorting to SCUBA gear. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to consider growing rice in my small kitchen garden.

How’s your kitchen garden doing?

No, I’m not making it up: my garden is very wet. Word is that local farmers are two weeks behind because of the weather. After a full day without rain, there is still standing water in my main planting bed. Apparently, some types of weeds don’t mind having wet feet.


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Weird Lettuce in my Small Kitchen Garden

Bolting Lettuce

Bolting is a lettuce plant’s attempt to reproduce. Until it bolts, the plant tends to maintain a tight leaf bunch: head lettuce wraps its leaves tightly around itself and leaf lettuces remain relatively compact

In summer heat, leaf and head lettuces bolt. That is, they develop stalks that rise out of the leaf mass and produce flowers. While that stalk may contain delicious-looking leaves, the leaves in general become bitter and unpleasant to eat. Usually, when my lettuce plants bolt, I toss them in the compost heap.

The weather in 2009 has confused many a small kitchen garden. Mine (hardiness zone 5b/6a in Central Pennsylvania) has been particularly confused. In Your Home Kitchen Garden, I wrote a post about the awkward transition of my garden from spring crops of peas, lettuce, and spinach to my summer crop of winter squash. As well, I’ve joked quite a bit with gardening friends about weird stuff the weather has wrought.

For example, I’ve stated repeatedly that unusual amounts of rain have given some of my tomato and squash plants trench foot. Trench foot is a very uncomfortable deterioration of the skin of your feet. You get trench foot by standing for extended periods in water – usually cold water. Of course my plants don’t have trench foot, but if there’s a horticultural equivalent of trench foot, my plants have it.

Did my lettuce bolt in June’s heat only to unbolt in July’s unseasonable cold? I suppose not, but the head made an amusing conversation piece, and a terrific salad.

Hot, Cold, Hot, Cold, Hot

About when I started planting back in March, we had unseasonable heat; I was concerned that spring crops would dry out, and I was hopeful of planting summer crops early. The heat lasted only a week, and then it became brisk. April was never warm… and May also was cool; we had frost in late May!

All this cold made my spring crops stall; they did almost nothing until late May. Then, when the days finally warmed, things grew very quickly. We had terrific lettuce salads for four weeks before the plants started to bolt. In late June I had all but given up on the lettuce.

Lo, the temperature dropped! Yes, July nights got very cool—some even in the low 40s. Lettuce thrives in cool weather, and mine started to look more and more edible. I started joking that my lettuce plants were unbolting… and my gardening friends made offhanded remarks.

Lettuce Bolts in Summer Heat

Daytime heat for the past four days has been above 80F degrees. It seems crazy, but the lettuce that spent most of July unbolting is showing signs of re-bolting. So, today, for the first time in my life, I harvested a crisp, delicious head of Ithaca lettuce. In August!

Information about lettuce that’s actually useful to a kitchen gardener:

  • Good Lettuce Gone Bad: Bolting and Flowering | Vegetable Gardening … – Thank you – I did a search to find out why I had some bolting lettuce in my garden so soon, and this helped me to understand WHY the plant does what it does. In this case I think it probably had to do with a recent temperature rise …

  • bolting lettuce – i think bolting lettuce looks funny. this is a romain (or cos) variety, and you can see the flower stalk alone is about twice the size of the head of lettuce itself. i’m growing this on my roof this year to save seeds. …

  • Transplanting Lettuce – I have taken most of the bolting lettuce out and now I have some extra cups. Some of the bolting lettuce I am leaving in so I can see if I can get some seeds. I am not sure how successful I will be with seed collecting. …


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Plant Lettuce in Your Small Kitchen Garden

Small Kitchen Garden Lettuce Sprouts

The earliest lettuce sprouts in my small kitchen garden are no bigger than pebbles in the soil. Cracks in the soil indicate high clay content; clay cracks as it dries out.

I planted lettuce and spinach in my small kitchen garden nearly seven weeks ago. These are crops you can plant outdoors as soon as the soil thaws. I argue that there’s no hurry: cold weather crops will survive a heavy frost, but they won’t grow much if the temperature remains low. So, I tend to wait a few weeks after the thaw before I plant any cold weather crops.

On the other hand, if you wait too long, some cold-weather crops may not produce to their greatest potential before summer heat shuts them down. Pea plants, for example, wilt and die when cooked by summer heat. Lettuce and spinach grow slowly when nights are cool and days are warm, but when nights are warm and days are hot, these greens “bolt” meaning they send up stalks of flowers in a rush to make seeds before the heat becomes unbearable.

Don’t Wait to Plant Lettuce

Lettuce Seeds for a Small Kitchen Garden

A handful of lettuce seeds hardly resembles the food I begin to harvest about a month after planting. I’m always a bit awed that so much grows from such tiny packages.

If you’re in hardiness zone six or five, it’s not too late to enjoy a lettuce or spinach crop. It takes about 40 days from the day you plant seeds till it’s reasonable to harvest young plants—or leaves from them. If you plant now (the end of May), lettuce and spinach will grow quickly, though it’ll probably hit the wall in July.

Whether I plant lettuce early or late, I use a simple method that forces me to harvest young plants aggressively: I plant many seeds very close together—ideally about 3-5 seeds per square inch. Here’s the procedure:

Before You Plant Lettuce

Your Small Kitchen Garden has presented several posts that explain how to prepare garden beds for planting. The first of these articles explains the benefits of preparing soil. The second and third provide step-by-step instructions for preparing traditional planting beds using traditional methods, and using the “minimal till” approach that I use in my garden. The fourth article suggests one approach to preparing soil in a raised planting bed. Links appear at the bottom of this box.

The instructions in this post for planting lettuce assume that you’ve prepared your soil and you now have a furrow awaiting seeds.

1. Prepare to plant

2. Soil Preparation 1

3. Soil Preparation 2

4. Soil Preparation 3

1. Prepare soil according to the method that best fits your situation. The box, Before You Plant Lettuce provides links to posts that explain various methods of preparing soil. When you’ve created a six- to eight-inch-wide furrow in which to plant, you’re ready for step 2 below.

2. Read the planting instructions on the package holding your lettuce seeds. Chances are, they call for a planting depth of ¼ inch. Depending on the variety of lettuce, the instructions also may include thinning guidelines such as Thin to 12” between plants. Ultimately, you plants will need to be approximately this far apart or they won’t have space to mature. But I encourage you to start them much closer.

3. Pinch a bunch of lettuce seeds between you thumb and index finger, and sprinkle them around in the furrow as you’d sprinkle seasoning into a frying pan of cooking food. I think of this as seasoning the soil with seeds. You’re trying to deliver from two to five seeds on every square inch of soil in you furrow. As your pinch of seeds runs out, take another pinch and sprinkle areas that you missed with the first pinch. Repeat this until you’re confident there are seeds spread the full length and width of the row.

4. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of soil. I usually pick up lumps of soil from the edges of the furrow and crumble them into the furrow. If there aren’t appropriate lumps, I sprinkle hands full of loose soil onto the seeds. Were I planting dozens of feet of rows, I’d rake soil onto the seeds, but it only takes a few minutes to cover a 14 foot row with hand-sprinkled soil.

I planted three three-foot sections of lettuce. The first holds a salad mix with four types of leaf lettuce. The second holds Ithaca head lettuce, a flavorful lettuce that forms crisp, small heads. The third holds Romaine lettuce. This is the first time I’ve grown Romaine. While the plants in these photos are already crowded, they aren’t yet big enough to fill a salad bowl simply by thinning.

5. Gently pat down the soil in the furrow. I press lightly with my fingers and the palm of my hand. This encourages soil to stay in place when it rains and when I hand-water the newly-planted seeds.

6. Water deeply and then water daily until the plants emerge. Then water if the soil looks dry or if the plants look wilted.

Crowding in Your Small Kitchen Garden

Your lettuce plants will be very crowded, but resist the urge to thin them until they produce leaves big enough to eat. This may take a few weeks, but then watch you’re your crowded plants may grow so fast that it become hard to keep up with them.

I take my first harvest from the middle of the furrow. I work my hand among the plants and grasp several at once right against the soil. I gently pull them from the ground, leaving a small gap in the lettuce patch. Ideally, I work the entire row for a single meal. If there’s simply more lettuce than we can consume, and the plants are pressed tightly together, I may pull many small plants and toss them on the mulch or compost pile; it’s important to keep air spaces among the remaining plants or they’ll hold moisture between them leading to possible problems with slugs, snails, insects, and even rot.

When my crowded lettuce plants are 3- to 4-inches tall, I work my hand into the mass of plants and pull several up along with their roots. I twist the roots off and toss them away, but the young, tender leaves go into the evening’s salad. I like to thin starting in the middle of the row. Ultimately, only five or six plants may mature, and thinning is necessary to provide space for them to grow.

As I harvest over the course of two or three weeks, I take plants always from the densest sections of the row. As lettuce matures in two months, I thin at a pace that I estimate will provide the requisite spacing about six weeks after planting.

For leaf lettuce, when you’ve thinned enough that the plants don’t crowd each other, change your harvesting technique: now use scissors to cut leaves from the plants an inch or two above the soil. More leaves should grow on the cut plants.

For head lettuce, continue to harvest entire plants as-needed. As heads approach maturity, you’ll need fewer of them to make a meal, and a head you harvest near the end of the season may last for several meals.

Here’s a video I made that demonstrates both how I plant lettuce and how I thin and harvest to make room for some plants. It’s about 6 and a half minutes long. Please enjoy:


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