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This is the lettuces for April and May, planted on the leafy planting days last weekend.  These are my own seed so they are free and bountiful. But still there’s no point in planting more than a pinch of them.  We take lunches and lettuce is in it practically every day when it is in season, and we would have a salad for dinner a few times a week too.  But even so, half a dozen loose leaf lettuces planted each month keeps us supplied.

Buttercrunch is a really good hot weather variety, and this is probably the last round of them I shall plant.  Next month I’ll plant a Romaine loose leaf lettuce, probably Rouge d’Hiver and/or Brown Romaine. Planting different varieties each time gives me a bit of insurance, since they respond differently to weather and pests.  A few weeks of wet might wipe out my buttercrunches, but the romaines will likely survive it.

This trick of taking only the seeds I intend to plant, not the whole packet, out to the garden is a really good way of making a packet of seeds last through multiple successive plantings. I wrote a whole post about it a little while ago.  Such a simple trick for so much benefit.

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This is that pinch of seeds today.  It was planted in a coolite box full of home made seed raising mix – half creek sand (fine gravel) and half mowed old dry cow pats.  I’ll prick these out to transplant and re-use the seed-raising mix for the next batch.  It will keep going for years with occasional top-ups.  I like using a deep coolite box like this because I find shallow trays or punnets are too vulnerable. I only need to neglect to water once, or get a really hot dry day when I’m not home and I lose them.  The deep boxes give me much more leeway.

There’s about 18 baby lettuces have come up.  These ones are ready to transplant, and today l shall pot on about a dozen of them, selecting the strongest.  Transplanting them at this two leaf stage is quick and easy and causes almost no transplant shock.  Culling the weaker seedlings is a good pest and disease control measure. It’s hard to do though – gardeners tend to have a weakness for baby plants! But if I plant all of them, I’ll just use up all the garden space and have no room for the next round.

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This is the baby lettuces I shall plant out into the garden today.  They were planted as seed a month ago now, at the  leafy planting days at the beginning of January, so they are already a month old.  They were transplanted at the two leaf stage into their own pot filled with a rich mix of compost, worm castings, with a bit of creek sand for drainage.  They have been kept in the shadehouse where I remember to water them.  I’ll plant them out by digging a little hole and putting the whole potting mix and all in it, so they are never bare rooted and suffer no transplant shock at all.  Often I make little leaf pots and I can plant pot and all.  We will be eating them in March and April.

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These lettuces were planted as seed back in December and out into the garden a month ago, and we’ve already been sneaking a few leaves from them. About a third of the lettuces in pots never make it out into the garden.  I select the strongest 6 or 8 and recycle the potting mix for the rest.  At any one time, there will normally be at least 3 beds with lettuce pickable in them, some getting to the end, some in the middle, some just starting to bear, 18 to 24 lettuces in all, plenty for us.  Small amounts of sequential planting like this is also less daunting.  Even if I am really really busy, I can normally find time to stick half a dozen lettuces in the ground.  Planting too many at once is not only a waste, it’s also a pretty effective deterrent to planting any at all!

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This is the lettuces we’re eating mostly now.  They were planted as seed back in November, planted out into the garden in December, and I was able to start picking them from mid-January. I pick a handful of leaves when we want them. I much prefer loose leaf lettuces because I can do this.  These are a cos variety and they managed to cope with the heat waves of December and January, which was a bit impressive of them.

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And this was the December/January lettuces.  I was impressed by the ability of this variety to survive the heat waves, and its resistance to bolting.  They were planted as seed in October, which would be the worst month of the whole year for lettuces in my part of the world.  My springs are often hot and dry, and the days are lengthening which spurs them to bolt to seed.  But these guys hung in through all that, and you can see from the length of bare stem at the bottom how much lettuce we ate from them.  I’ve left two of the slowest to bolt to bear seed.  I’ll collect the seed, dry it in a bowl on my verandah table, and that will be the seed I plant next spring.

I plant a pinch of seeds, pot on a dozen baby seedlings, and plant out 6 or 8 advanced seedlings each month, aiming to do it on the leafy planting days mainly because that’s a good reminder and procrastination buster.  The September to November plantings are a bit of a long shot and I don’t have high hopes for them, which means there is often a period from December to February when lettuces are in short supply. But for the rest of the year this strategy normally means there are several varieties of lettuce for picking any day I like.

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Edamame are green soy beans, and most Australians anyway only ever encounter them in a sushi bar. They’re easy to grow in a garden though, and to me, they work so well as a snack food because they have a distinct nuttiness to them. They remind me more of boiled peanuts than anything else.

Which raises all sorts of ideas about fusion-ing them into dishes from distinctly non-Japanese cuisines. This is one of the ways I like them. It’s kindof like sprinkling toasted nuts through a salad. It makes it into a satisfying meal rather than a side dish. It’s almost like your body recognises that there’s the full range of macro nutrients in there.

So edamame which is a Japanese idea, in fattoush which is an Arabic one. The joys of living in a multicultural society!

The Recipe:

Boil the edamame, in their shells, in heavily salted water for five minutes or so until they are tender, then shell them.  (They shell really easily once cooked).

While the edamame are cooking, toast some pita chips.  I use my sourdough pita, cut it into little triangles, sprinkle with olive oil, and put them on a tray in a hot oven for a few minutes till they are crisp.  You could also fry the pita chips.  Cut them into little triangles and fry in light olive oil, or some other oil with a fairly high smoke point,  for a few minutes, then drain on brown paper.  Or you could toast them under the griller. Whichever way you go, you want crisp little shards of bread.

While all this is happening, you can add another layer of multitasking and make the dressing.  This is just a very simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing: good fruity olive oil and fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, in a jar and shake together.

Assembling:

By adding edamame, we’re already going non-traditional, so I don’t suppose it matters what else you add.  This one has:

  • olives (green and black)
  • tomatoes (fresh and sundried)
  • feta
  • labneh
  • chopped parsley and mint
  • cucumber
  • lettuce
  • cooked, shelled endamame
  • pita chips

Lightly dress with the dressing – be careful not to drown it – and serve.  Or pack the pita chips and dressing separately so they stay crisp, pack the salad into a lunch box and make your workmates jealous.

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Love Cos lettuce this time of year.  We’ve had a little bit of rain and a cool start to spring and the greens are very happy.  With Cos and eggs in abundance, my thoughts for the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week turned to Caesar salad. There’s a reason that Caesar is a classic salad.  Bitterness of lettuce, creaminess of eggs, sourness in the dressing,  crunch of the croutons, the saltiness – beautiful fresh ingredients beautifully balanced. Traditionally the saltiness comes from anchovies, and if you are going for a meal without meat rather than vego, you can use anchovies. But pepitas sautéed in soy sauce work really well in a lot of recipes that want that little intense salty crunch.

There’s a nutritional balance in there too.  It’s not the lowest calorie of salads, but if you have really nice lettuce that makes up the bulk of it, you can afford croutons.

The Recipe:

This is a matter of preparing all the parts, then just putting them together. Makes two big dinner sized bowls.

The Croutons:

Turn the oven on to heat up to hot.

Use a mortar and pestle to crush one or two cloves of garlic in a pinch of salt.

Add a couple of dessertspoons of good olive oil and blend in the salty garlic.

Cut three or four slices of bread into little ½ inch (15 mm) cubes – enough to make a good cup full of croutons.  I use my heavy wholegrain bread and it works fine.  Toss the croutons in the garlic oil and spread on a baking tray.

Bake in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, tossing every so often, till they are brown and crunchy.

The Eggs:

Boil 3 eggs till they are just hard, drain, peel and chop into quarters.  If you start with cold water, they will take between 4 and 5 minutes from boiling, depending on the size of the eggs.  Eggs that are very fresh will be impossible to peel so choose your oldest eggs.

The Pepitas:

Mix two handfuls of pepitas with two teaspoons of soy sauce.  Dry roast them in a hot pan for just a few minutes, stirring all the time, till they just start to pop.

The Dressing:

Blend together

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 2 dessertpoons olive oil
Pour into a small saucepan and cook for just a minute or so, stirring all the while, till it thickens.

To Assemble:

Tear a whole lot of Cos lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Add the dressing and use your hands to toss through.  Add the pepitas and croutons and toss again.  Then add the eggs and very gently toss them through too.
Serve into bowls.
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