There was no lettuce

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 - 6:40pm

I went to the supermarket (Aldi, if you must know) and there was no lettuce. No lettuce! Now it might be that they had cases more in the back, but I am guessing that will not be the reason some time very soon. Or if there is lettuce it will sharply more expensive. Why? The drought in California.

"Leafy greens? California's got the market cornered: 90 percent of the leaf lettuce we consume, along with and 83 percent of Romaine lettuce and 83 percent of fresh spinach, come from the big state on the left side of the map." - California's Fruit-and-Veg Behemoth: Too Productive for Our Own Good (Mother Jones)

And yet, California is rapidly running out of water.

The success of California agriculture was built in large part on advances in irrigation that allowed the state to expand beyond wheat, which flourishes in dry climates. It’s now the U.S.’s top dairy producer and grows half the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts.

“Water has allowed us to grow more valuable crops,” Sumner said. “Now, we have fruits and vegetables and North Dakota grows our wheat. Without irrigation, we’d be North Dakota.” - California Drought Transforms Global Food Market (Bloomberg).

Oh, they will grow something in CA. Just not lettuce. And a lot of other high-water-needs crops.

For many, the solution is a kitchen garden. I just had a meal with a salad with fresh asparagus, black-seeded Simpson lettuce, and leaves from mange tout (eat it all) peas - all picked today in my garden. You can have this in a northern climate with a cold frame, like we did all winter but this was from an early March USDA zone 8 planting in raised beds. When we had late frost we put old comforters over the seedlings overnight (which is one of the best things we've found about square-foot gardening).

We're not terribly worried about there being no lettuce in the supermarket. With very little work you should not be, either.  Here is a primer on growing salad greens.

  1. Head or leaf lettuce?  One thing you might not know: iceberg lettuce is the least nutritious variety, mainly grown since it travels and stores well. Try butterhead lettuces. Hot climates will have more success with leaf lettuces: oak leaf, Jericho cos, .red sails, escarole, etc. Arugula can be a perennial  lettuce.
  2. Cabbages and Kale. The same comment about heads liking cooler climates and loose leaf doing better in hot ones applies. We've had better luck with loose-leaf kale for that reason, but can grow head cabbages if we spray them with Bt, twice a week and after every rain. This year we are trying Chinese cabbage, and we will let you know how it goes (anyone else have experience there?)
  3. Other greens. How about spinach? Have you tried Swiss chard? Radicchio? Endive? Celery or basil leaves? Beet greens? Dandelion greens? We sometimes throw in a little carrot greens or parsley. Make sure dandelion greens are true dandelions: we have false dandelions with hairy leaf-undersides which can cause indigestion.
  4. Edible flowers. Our favorite salad flower is nasturtium, which also has wonderful peppery greens.
  5. Salad fixings veggies. Of course radishes, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and cucumbers are on this list, but what about fresh beets? Asparagus? Snow peas? Fresh or cooked green or wax beans? green onion tops? The list is nearly endless.

 

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9 Comments

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 29 2008
Posts: 220
Just planted!

I just put 640 lettuce seeds into microblocks this morning! Soil blocks require much less water than ground plantings!

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 108
Soil blocks

Wow! That is a LOT of lettuce!

We love our soil blocks, we are seeding lettuce into 2 inchers for about 4 weeks before transplant. They do very well.

The article about drought should really have all of us on our toes. Things are changing rapidly in our food world on a number of different fronts. This week the World Health Organization deemed Round Up "Probably carcinogenic", and another neonicitiniod was blamed for the decline in monarch butterflies.

There is an "Integrity food tsunamis"  happening, McDonalds is phasing out chicken with antibiotics, people are waking up to the reality that we are not being supplied with healthy food through the normal channels.

There are small farms popping up all over, gardening is suddenly very hot. Innovation will be critical.

We have 13,000 gallons of rain water stored, we drip irrigate and use some aquaponics. Looking at the map, where we live falls into Extreme Drought, happy to say we downgraded from the Exceptional Drought of last year. Fire and drought go hand in hand, this is serious stuff!

Food security! Plan to plant a garden if you have not already.

Food that you grow tastes better too!

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
how much to plant?

We use a LOT of lettuce & kale, and have found we need to plant multiple raised beds to meet out needs. It helps to have many kids growing at once. In our case, we plant oak leaf and Jericho cos, large-leaf basil (yum!) and lots of lark's tongue or dinosaur kale.

Planting it near the house has cut down on bunny damage.

Yoxa's picture
Yoxa
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 21 2011
Posts: 293
Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is one of my favorite vegetables. A short row can keep going all summer if you pick a leaf or two from several plants rather than taking a whole plant when you go to pick some for a meal.

Chard cooks quickly in the microwave, and it can also be steamed or boiled. I like it as a veggie on its own or with a bit of butter, and it also works well in any recipe that calls for spinach, such as quiche.

Chard freezes well, but blanched chard is soggy and it will freeze into an amorphous lump. So freeze portions in the size you'd need for one meal. Silicone muffin cups are great for freezing individual servings. After it's frozen, turn out the muffin-shaped lumps into a freezer bag. Then just use what you need.

Some chard varieties have pale green stems, and some have showy red stems. They taste about the same IMHO, but the red-stemmed varieties are prettier if you wanted to tuck some into an ornamental planting.

Another plant worth mentioning is chives, which is related to onions. It has pretty purple flowers and some snips of chive stems will enhance any salad. Especially a creamy potato salad!

dalex's picture
dalex
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 26 2009
Posts: 2
Swiss Chard

Thanks for the tips about handling/freezing Swiss Chard; it's an under-rated vegetable that is hardy, nutritious, and productive. Highly recommended!

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 29 2008
Posts: 220
microblocks save soil

We're a production greenhouse. And we're (ab)using old seed. So we like to start up in microblocks at just 6% of the soil use of 2" blocks (8cc vs 125cc). Then, we don't feel so bad when only 50% of them germ.

Then, a week or so after germ, the 8cc blocks go right into the 125cc blocks!

We went to a lot of trouble and expense to find "ferti-pots" for the 125cc blocks, but then discovered that people at the market actually don't mind buying plants in little lumps of soil when we put them in a re-purposed plastic grocery bag.

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 108
More Bytesmiths!

More! Are you selling seed starts at the Farmers Markets? So neat that folks like the soil blocks, we love them! What are you using for transport? Do you use wooden trays or bread trays?

I would love to hear more about your greenhouse, and what you do. We are a second year market grower  and we love the openness of this community.  We potting on our tomatoes and peppers, going in to 4" blocks and we have to double deck in our high tunnels. Getting tight! and lots more to come......

Rob

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 29 2008
Posts: 220
blast from the past

Found this buried in my endless "inbox..." sorry for the delay!

We do sell starts in soil blocks at farmers markets. A buck each, for 60 cc (1.5") and 125 cc (2") blocks. Or six for five bux.

We found a fish hatchery that was being de-commissioned, and got a whack of hatchling trays for the cost of transport. They hold 56 125 cc blocks or 100 60 cc blocks.

For 8 cc microblocks, we use cafeteria trays, although they are hard to find. We also grab any 4-sided cookie sheets we find at thrift stores and yard sales. I have a bunch of sheet aluminum that I keep threatening to turn into trays, but that takes, y'know... time.

We have a 3,500 sqft high tunnel. We also use stacking tables that I designed and built from surplus materials. But you have to manage it well to have shade-tolerant stuff on the bottom.

We have a 1,000 cc (4") blocker, but have never used it. That's a lot of soil! We re-use commercial greenhouse pots, but due to Sudden Oak Death disease, their use has been banned by the BC Government. (If I were just a tad more cynical, I'd say "banned with the help of the large greenhouse industry to keep small greenhouses from re-using pots.")

Speaking of which, I have to go out and water the greenhouse now. That's the worst part of a greenhouse: having to water it when it's raining on everything else!

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 108
Thank you!

Thanks for the feed back, no mater how delayed!

We hope to add seed starts to our quiver, new to the market grower thing and that will add another revenue stream. Our sales were six times what they were last year, getting pretty close to covering all our living expenses, we eat really well and are having a blast.

Many thanks for taking the time to reply,

Rob

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