In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Most fall-planted lettuce is bolting, but we're trying to extend the remaining harvest.

Too Many Peas, Last Fall Lettuce

Peas from my October planting are continuing their heavy production. I daren't admit I'm getting sick of them already, since the batch I planted in February is just gaining its optimum height and will begin ending up its blossoms soon. I was getting worried in December, when only about half of the seeds I'd sown were up, so I filled in the gaps with more seeds. They came up fine and are now what we've been eating. With our wonderful February rains and week of 80-degree sun, the new sowing germinated strongly and promises to be too much of a good thing in another month.

Last Lettuce From Fall Planting
I'm trying to stretch my lettuce harvest of what we've been enjoying since October until the seeds I planted last month of summer varieties become large enough seedlings to transplant. I grow buttercrunch and Bibb types exclusively, since we love the crunchiness with delicate but pronounced lettuce flavor. This year's favorites are 'Tom Thumb' (little tennis-ball-size clumps that are perfect single servings) and 'Speckles' (mix of rich brown and bright green outer leaves where the sun hits, chartreuse green further in, and creamy white interior -- all with reddish-brown speckles that set off the background colors). Most of the regular green buttercrunch plants have already bolted and are so bitter they're inedible.

Beating the Bitterness of Bolting
Over the years I've found that my water-bath technique to crisp up the lettuce leaves also displaces any bitterness, so we can enjoy our lettuce another week or two beyond its turning bitter as it bolts. Harvest individual leaves, and let remain only the tiniest 1-inch-size leaves remain to continue developing that you'll harvest a week later. But do make sure to taste a leaf from each plant as it begins to bolt, as a measure of palatability, before you harvest a whole batch of lettuce. Put all leaves into a broad bucket in the sink -- I use the bucket I wash the dishes in -- and fill with cold water. Let sit for 15 minutes, submerging the leaves several times to wash off soil and mulch from the garden. Repeat again until no "foreign" elements remain. Drain lightly (but don't dry), and gently place leaves into Ziplock plastic bags, squeezing out as much air as possible before sealing. This lack of air will lengthen the time in the refrigerator before the lettuce spoils. Enjoy over the next week, till the next harvest!


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