July 2018 On The Farm: Lettuce and more

A note from the editor: If you’re a print reader of the Gales Creek Journal, you’ll note that this column appears in our print monthly version. Moving forward, we will be publishing these columns online as well. Look for the back columns coming in the next few weeks, too.

Anne Berblinger and her husband Rene have been growing heirloom organic vegetables at Gales Meadow Farm in Gales Creek since 1999. They sell their products at the Hollywood and Cannon Beach Farmers Markets, at the indoor Forest Grove Farmers Market in November and December, and to several fine restaurants in Portland and at the Coast.
If you have a question about vegetable gardening, Anne might be able to answer it. Send your question to  news@galescreekjournal.com with a subject line “Question for Gales Meadow Farm”

Lettuce interspersed with pumpkin plants.

Lettuce

Almost all of our lettuce seed comes from Wild Garden Seed. The founder, owner, and vegetable breeder is Frank Morton, who is a true Oregon treasure. (I do want to mention that Wild Garden Seed breeds and grows seed for many other vegetables, but lettuce is on my mind right now.) We first met Frank more than 20 years ago when he gave a presentation at Clackamas Community College as part of the wonderful Vegetable Symposium series they held back in the 90’s. Frank was still growing vegetables for market at the time. I was mightily impressed that he was selling his lettuce mix for $18.00 a pound, and I am sure it was worth every penny. He shipped orders to Portland on the Greyhound bus.

Frank is now a full time vegetable breeder and seed company operator. He has preserved some wonderful old varieties that of lettuce that were being dropped by larger commercial seed companies. The heart of his business, however, is creating new varieties. He does this by planting adjacent patches of the varieties he want to combine. Lettuce is mostly self-pollinating, but a small percentage of the adjacent plants will cross. He saves the seeds, replants, and selects the best of the newly created variety over several seasons until he has a stable new variety.

We set up two lettuce spreadsheets, one for spring and the other for summer. The former includes varieties that are resistant to cold and wet; and the latter, varieties that are slower to bolt in the summer heat. Each spreadsheet lists types of lettuce – leafy, crisphead, romaine, butterhead, oakleaf, and red, green, and variegated varieties in each category.

Lettuce Salad

Lettuce is a short-lived plant, hurrying through its delicious phase into bolting, producing flowers, and then seeds. We need to plant it often over the season. The over wintered lettuce from the high tunnels is long gone, as is the early spring lettuce, also grown in the high tunnels. We are picking now from the first outdoor planting of spring varieties. The second outdoor planting, the summer varieties, are growing fast and will be ready before the spring lettuce bolts. Our ducks (who are mostly carnivorous and not usually too hard on the vegetables) found some of the lettuce interplanted with the pumpkins. So now they are confined to their roomy pen with the two kiddy wading pools, until the lettuce is big enough to defend itself. The lettuce and the ducks both loved the rain we had in early May.
Lettuce interspersed with pumpkin plants.

Our main way to offer lettuce is as a mix of leaves at least as big as my hand. We like the larger leaves better than baby lettuce because it has more flavor and substance. And like other more mature vegetables, it keeps better. We usually pick our lettuce right before lunch, and if we pick more than we can eat, we will save it for tomorrow. So we don’t really know how long it keeps. But our customers tell us that it’s still good even a week after it is picked. Baby lettuce might be good for 2-3 days unless it is sealed hermitically in an oxygen free package.

Local Customers

We give signs like this to the chefs who use our produce

We are so pleased, as I am sure everyone is, to have two new beautiful places to get food in Forest Grove. And we love it that they are our customers!

Simmer and Slurp, a food cart operated by Rachel Weil at 19th and Elm, has an endless repertoire of soup recipes. She also offers toasted cheese sandwiches. She uses our lettuce for her salads, and our edible flowers for garnishes. We are looking forward to later in the season when we will have more soup-appropriate vegetables for her.

Dave Ferrier presides at Slow Rise Bakehouse at 19th and Main. He can use our herbs for some of the daily special breads, and rhubarb for scones. Dave worked for us two years ago when he and his wife Meredith first moved to our area, and Meredith worked for us last season. They are both way too busy to be part of the farm crew now!

We are committed to providing the best quality and value to all of our customers. Our way of farming – small scale, organic, selecting varieties for flavor and beauty rather than just for yield and shelf life, picking to order rather than to storage, growing a great variety of vegetables rather than achieving efficiencies by limiting our products – is costly. When our market customers and companies like Simmer and Slurp and Slow Rise are willing to take the time to buy from us and pay our prices, they are supporting the way we do things. What they, and their customers get in return is unusually delicious vegetables, herbs, and fruit and freshness impossible from even the best wholesalers.