As it truly sinks in that today is the day, that now is the time, my mind begins racing, concocting beautiful dishes to pay honour to this perfect head of lettuce. Seventy-two days can seem like an eternity when you live in anticipation of one moment. The season’s first butterhead lettuce, planted from seed, has matured to perfection.
This one is slightly ahead of the rest of them, so it’s only right that I harvest and sample it with my family… you know, to make sure it is good enough to offer to you, my community. First, those outer leaves: they are strong, supple and just the right size (huge) to make salad rolls. Peel away the crunchy, soft middle leaves to be used on sandwiches throughout the week, and finally, the heart—this is a sacred meal. Never will you taste such delicate salad as the blanched heart of butterhead, sliced in half, drizzled with a lemon/hemp oil dressing and sprinkled with arugula blossoms. This is what culinary dreams are made of. Most of my meals are born of inspiration from the plants I grow. This is the finest perk of my job as a market farmer.
I love growing food for my community and take pride in the fact that I am providing the freshest, quality produce available. Actually, I’ll let you in on a little secret. For the sake of my job security, please keep it to yourself, though: my produce is only second to best, with the first being vegetables you have grown yourself in your own garden. You can harvest groceries from your yard and have them on your table within moments, and in the case of such tiny treasures as cherry tomatoes, into your mouth in milliseconds—no wonder there has been a tremendous shift towards backyard sustenance growing. Once you have pulled a carrot from the patch of ground you have been tending for months—seeding, weeding, thinning, watering, and more weeding—wiped most of the soil off with the lower corner of your t-shirt and taken a big bite of its crisp, earthy sweetness, there’s no turning back. This deep connection with your food has embraced you.
For those who have limited experience with plants, planning and planting a garden can be a daunting task. Go to the internet for help and you will be faced with enough information from countless schools of gardening thought to make you feel dizzy. Google “growing potatoes”, for instance; in a blink, you are learning that there are early, mid-early, and late potatoes. What happens if you plant the late potatoes early and the early potatoes late? One guy says, “They should be grown in cages.” Another source states, “Growing in trenches work best. Never water potatoes!” And yet another, “When watering potatoes, be sure not to get the leaves wet.” Then, as a result, you decide to skip growing potatoes—they’re cheap at the store anyway you think to yourself.
But, don’t give up! It does not have to be that complicated. All you really have to do is find out the basic needs of the plant you wish to grow and make an honest effort to provide them. The plant will tell you if it likes the way you are treating it or not.
I encourage new gardeners to find a sunny spot in their yard, dig a little plot, and start off small. Pick one or two of your favourite vegetables to plant. Take care of them and observe them. Play around with plant spacing. You may find that you prefer the tender blanched stems from a tight planting of mustard greens to the stockier, stir-fry worthy leaves of the well-spaced. In addition, leave a plant or two in the ground past maturity to learn and connect with its entire life cycle. One arugula plant gone to seed can supply your salads with the most delicately beautiful, subtly sweet, arugula-tasting flowers for the entire season. I only know that because, due to lack of time in the day, I left a full bed unharvested, past what I had once thought was their prime. Now, I leave them purposely.
By connecting with the plants, they will give more than you ever imagined possible. Once you feel comfortable with a couple types of vegetables, add more to your planting list. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying gourmet simplicity all year round. Speaking of which, I’ve got some tender folds of butterhead to prepare! Oh, but first I must weed the carrots.