On Mother’s Day, after I had harvested this beauty as a gift for my mother, my husband said he wanted to take a picture of it on his phone so he could “brag about Mommy’s garden to his buddies at work”.  My 5-year-old piped up, “Daddy, it’s not nice to brag”.  Indeed.  Well, I’m not writing this post to brag (well, maybe a little), but I am quite proud of my lettuce this spring.  I thought I’d share some discoveries I have made in my effort to grow big heads of lettuce.  During my first couple of years gardening I planted lettuce seeds as early as I could (when the soil finally thawed) and got some decent leaf lettuce, although certainly nothing to brag about.  Those early harvests gave me a taste for homegrown lettuce, which is, like other veggies from the home garden, nothing like lettuce from the supermarket.  Freshly picked just before eating, it actually glows in the salad bowl.  Sadly, though, with our short springs the lettuce would not last long before bolting (sending up a flower stalk and turning bitter).

Two winters ago, I became envious of all the gorgeous heads of lettuce shown in my kitchen gardening books.  How do they do that, I exclaimed to my husband, how can they possibly get such gorgeous lettuces in such a short growing season?  I became determined to get heads of lettuce in my own garden, if only to say I could do it.  I had also just gotten my first taste of homegrown onions, started by seed directly in the garden the previous spring, pathetically small (but delicious nonetheless!).   After some serious study I discovered that the only way to get good onions to grow from seed was to start them very early indoors, in January or February.  While planting the onion seed (a small red called Purplette, which I highly recommend), I decided to start some lettuce seed at the same time.  Now it was no small amount of work, first starting the seed and then transplanting them into individual pots, and then finally into the garden.  It paid off pretty well, although still not the great glowing heads I was coveting.  Back to the books, and some more careful reading.  To grow great heads of lettuce, I learned, you have to give them one square foot each, and honestly, I’m beginning to think more space would be even better.

Thinking back on what I’ve read, I should also have made succession plantings, because all of my lettuce is ready at the same time and we have way more than we can possibly eat (especially since my kids won’t touch it and my husband is never home for dinner during the week).  Part of me doesn’t want to pick it, either, because it is pretty and harvestings leaves big gaps in my planting scheme.  I am living in fear of bolting, though, so I have started giving it away, another benefit of the veggie garden.  I’m also starting to understand all those recipes for braised lettuce and lettuce soup, although I haven’t gotten there yet.  However, I’m thinking that the next time the weather report says it’s going to hit the high 80’s, I may just pick it all and then figure out what to do with it.  In working on this post, too, I did some research on bolting and found the blog, Veggie Gardening Tips.  Using some of Kenny’s ideas, I’m going to keep some perspective on it.  Even if this month stays cool, I think the day length will do me in.  I may try to figure out the date when that will happen, but the calculation may be beyond me.

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