Sunday, January 2, 2022

Let's Get Salad Smart in 2022

Happy New Year!  Here we go 2022….you're bound to be better than your predecessor, it certainly would be hard not too! 

So, the new year always brings about the same thing for many of us.  I am going to do more of this, and less of that… eat better, exercise more… we all know the drill.  But in the next few posts I wanted to focus on my New Year’s Resolutions for the Garden/Homestead.  There are a few things that I have planned for this growing season, and with any luck, there might be some ideas or lessons that can help you this season as well.  

First of all, let me make it clear that many of these ideas are coming fresh off the failures from last year.  I like to approach every growing season as an opportunity to learn and grow my knowledge and skill base.  Every year some things go right, while other things end up being epic failures.  But a failure is just a “First Attempt In Learning.”  So, let's dive right in and take a look at what we could have done better, and how we plan to do so this season!  

Get Salad Smart

Let’s start on the salad front.  I have come to really, really love a garden fresh salad.  When it comes to lettuce, fresh is best.  I know that here in our area, I just can’t buy lettuce even remotely close to the quality of what I can grow myself.  My wife and kids also agree that the lettuce from our garden is the best they’ve had.  All that excitement, coupled with the wide range of lettuce varieties, ease of starting from seed, and generally low cost and it's easy to start a lot of lettuce. Like a lot, a lot! 

But here in the high desert of Eastern Oregon, our summers quickly get hot, lettuce bolts, and then we’re done.  The season is over almost as soon as the decent harvests start rolling in.  It can get frustrating and we end up feeding piles of lettuce to our rabbits, chickens, and compost piles.  This year, we will do better.  Here are my thoughts. 

  1. Last season I tried to embrace the cut and come again method popularized by many market gardeners.  I would take the outside leaves and leave the central growing point to keep going.  This may have lead to one more harvest before the season got too hot.  In hindsight, it would have been better off to harvest the whole plant, clear some bed space, and start a different crop behind it.  Better yet, I could have potentially interplanted the bed with something that would have taken longer to grow but benefited from the protection the lettuce would provide.  Maybe some carrots will join them this season. 

  2. Harvesting entire heads will require that I get a bit more strategic with my seed starting efforts. This year I plan on attempting to come up with a plan for planting a “salad.”  It should be fun to experiment with finding that right mixture of greens, herbs, and garnishes to create ready to harvest blocks of salad.  In theory this will prevent us from having more mature lettuce than we know what to do with, and generate a steady supply of fresh salad through the early growing season.

  3. I also plan to start utilizing our protected growing space better.  We have a couple different greenhouse type growing spaces.  Last season I didn’t utilize those spaces nearly early enough, and we ended up getting no early harvest from them as a result.  This year I plan on making a concerted effort to get things growing in those spaces early on so we can attempt to take advantage of the early season benefits that infrastructure offers.  

  4. I completely missed the fall growing season last year, and this year I want to really make an effort to start a fall salad garden.  I have since learned that one potential secret, given our hot summer weather, is to start the fall lettuce seedlings inside where the air conditioned environment will be more suited to their early growth requirements.  Then as we begin removing summer plants, we can quickly and easily transplant out the salad seedlings once the weather begins to cool down. 

  5. Finally, I am actually in the middle of experimenting with a small hydroponic indoor growing system.  If I can figure out how to make that system work, it would mean that we have found a solution for both the summer and winter seasons when fresh salad isn’t available from our garden outside.  We might also take a look at experimenting with micro greens and maybe even growing some baby leaf type lettuces in our seed starting systems.  

As you can see, there are many things to try and do differently, but when it comes to salad, I think a lot of this effort really is worth it.  When the quality of what you can grow vastly exceeds what is available in your local area for purchase, you know you’ve found gardening gold.  Some folks would say this is the case no matter what you grow, and I might not put up much of a fight against that position, but I know when it comes to lettuce it is definitely true.  Fresh really is best, and with such a wide range of options, it's just fun to try the different varieties and see what sort of flavor profiles you can develop.  

What plans do you have for your garden this season?  Did you learn any great lessons from your failures last year?  Do you make the space to grow some fresh lettuce and if so, what varieties do you grow?  We’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and look forward to sharing more plans for this growing season in our next post.  Until then, remember to get outside and get growing, because life is better when it’s lived outdoorz!     

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