Q: What water yields the most beautiful lettuce heads?
Planting lettuces out one at a time is my idea of hell, so I have developed an easier method that can only be described as ‘clump lettuce’.
First I make lettuce seed trays from old pie trays and pieces of wood, Chux wiper clothes to line the bottom and cable ties to hold it all together. This is then filled with potting mix to about two centimetres below the brim, mixed lettuce seed from my vast collection sprinkled liberally on top, then another centimetre of potting mix tamped down on top of that. This hangs out on the seed table for about six weeks while being watered each day with rainwater. By then it looks like this: -
No way am I going to separate all this seedlings one from the next and plant them separately in tiny holes along a string line.
Instead I hoe a furrow through my richest soil that has been turned over by the chicken flock, well watered beforehand then left for a further week to allow the soil to come alive again after this fallow period.
At 10cm intervals along the row, I plant ‘clumps’ of lettuce seedlings that are simply torn apart from the root-bound seedlings lifted out of the tray lines.
The lettuces all compete for soil, moisture and nutrients in their space, and the cook wanders along picking the most tender leaves off what ever looks good for the salad.
This thinning process supplies us with regular salads without the hassle of digging out a whole lettuce and disposing of the root ball.
Once sowing has been completed (and only a few rows are sown each week to ensure different rates of maturation) drip lines are laid beside the lettuce rows and turned on, as such leafy seedlings wilt quickly. The mulch layer that covers our soils right through summer is returned around the individual seedlings to prevent evaporation from the soil surface.
The last step is to lay shade cloth or shade cloches over the seedlings for three to four days to give the ruptured root systems a chance to recover and spread out to find moisture.