From Seed to Salad

From Seed to Salad

This is the first season we’ve grown oakleaf lettuce as a head lettuce. We source organic Bauer pelleted seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. This particular variety of seed is named after one of Johnny’s employees, John Bauer. The green Bauer oakleaf lettuce, one of many lactuca sativa (lettuce) varieties, is a type of butter lettuce with distinctly lobed leaves. Being a butter lettuce, it has tender, sweet leaves and a mild flavor. The lettuce heads grow in loose, round-shaped heads. It is an open-pollinated seed, which means it is a non-hybrid variety, and it can reproduce itself in kind, demonstrating relatively stable traits from one generation to the next. Join us for a little jaunt through the life cycle of the oakleaf lettuce from seed to harvest. 

We use a vacuum seeder that allows us to seed many seeds at once. For head lettuces, we use 128-cell flats. At right in the photo above, you can see the seed plate with 128 pelleted seeds that correspond to the cells in the soil-filled flat on the left. The seed plate is placed over the flat, and then the vacuum is released by removing the hose from the right side of the seed plate so that the seeds drop into the soil in the cells. Using this method, we typically seed 4 flats of each variety of head lettuce at a time – that’s 512 heads of lettuce! This succession of oakleaf lettuce was seeded on Tuesday, February 6.

Early in the season, all of our plants start by growing on the heated germinating tables in our propagation greenhouse. By now, we are using an outdoor shade area with “misters,” where we can keep the flats wet but not drenched. You can see in the photo below that we use different tag colors to distinguish among the varieties of lettuce. Each batch also includes a white tag that tells us the seeding date and the specific variety. In this right side of the photo below, the pink and lavender tags are our frilly and smooth salanova lettuces respectively. We typically seed 14 flats of each – that’s 1,792 plants at a time! – for our salad mix.

Once the lettuce flats germinate, we move them from the shade area to the “wizards,” where they are more exposed to the elements to be hardened off. The wizards are sprinkler heads that help us water many flats at a time. In the photo above you can see Grazion and Gladius lettuces (two other green-leaf head lettuce varieties) along with the frilly salanova salad mix and Benefine frisee. Our Bandit leeks are on the far right of the photo. The amount of time plants spend out in the wizards area varies from a few days to a few weeks before they are ready for transplant.

At this point in the season, all of our lettuces are being transplanted into greenhouses. The soil temperatures are not yet high enough for them to grow outside. In this photo, our farm manager Alex is harvesting the first oakleaf lettuce of the season. From here, the lettuce will be dunked in a large tub of water in our packshed and then stored in the cooler overnight before being packed into your CSA box on Wednesday morning!

I love salad, but my favorite way to eat butter lettuce is as a wrap. I cook a batch of rice and a smattering of vegetables – this week I would recommend a hakurei turnip and carrot stirfry! I usually add garbanzo beans and lemongrass turmeric curry paste plus fresh ginger. I use the lettuce leaves almost like taco shells and wrap all the fillings up inside. Almond butter sauce made with ginger, garlic, coconut aminos, and maple syrup makes a decadent topping!