Did your grocery store start carrying butter lettuce (Boston lettuce) like this, with the roots attached? Mine did, and I love it!

It keeps the lettuce fresh a lot longer. Butter lettuce has long been my favorite, but it only lasts a couple of days at the most (which is fine, since the heads are so small anyway). But now Hollandia Farms is selling the lettuce with the roots attached for a longer life. They’re grown hydroponically¹…you can learn more at livegourmet.com.

Cool idea. A few weeks ago, after grilling at the pool with friends, I ended up with two lettuce root balls, with just a little lettuce on them (we’d used the rest for BBQ chicken lettuce wraps). Someone insisted I take them and put them to good use.

Why not, I thought. I’ll plant them and grow my own butter lettuce.

It wasn’t a great time to plant lettuce, especially as delicate as this type, because it was already so hot in Albuquerque. But I decided to do it anyway.

I’ve been meaning to start a trend here in the Southwest – instead of raised bed farming, I think we should do lowered bed farming. That’s where we dig holes and plant down, so that if it ever rains, the rain can collect where it’s most needed.

But I haven’t yet started that trend, so I looked around for something I could use to create a small raised bed garden.

Ah-ha! This old box I found in the back yard would be perfect:

Next it was important to pick a location that had a nice balance of light and shade. Light because the lettuce would need some good light to grow well, and shade from the hottest part of the day.

I chose underneath the Black Locust tree in the front of the house. The lettuce would get morning light and shade most of the day. And that area of yard was mostly bare because we dug it up last fall when we unearthed all the Irises.

I dug a big square hole and placed the box down inside it (I didn’t dig down very far, just enough to give it a little support, it’s an old box).

Then filled the box with a potting soil mix:

Planting the lettuce was the easiest part.

They look a little lonely but they won’t stay that way for long:

Rather than waste the spacious packaging that the lettuce came in, I decided to use it as a mini-greenhouse to grow some basil plants from seed:

When they are bigger, they can join the butter lettuce in the box garden.

It only the took the lettuce heads a few days before they began to grow and thrive. Here they are mid-day enjoying some pleasant shade from the Locust:

One problem I noticed was that the late afternoon sun beamed passionately down on the heads, practically melting them each day. They needed some shade. I know I could’ve gone to a plant nursery and constructed some sort of official looking shade.

But instead, I went to the thrift store and bought an umbrella for $1.99:

I know, it looks pretty silly. But I don’t care because it works great. I like it, it makes me smile every time I see it. I buried the handle into the soil to deter someone from swiping the umbrella (*^$#@ thieves!). I also bought a back-up umbrella just in case.

Once the lettuce began growing well, I added Tarragon (because I’m obsessed with making Bearnaise sauce lately). I ended up with another head of the butter lettuce as well. The basil sprouts are still just a little too small to plant.

Not bad for a summer salad garden, eh?

I don’t recommend starting lettuce gardens in the middle of summer. But if you do, you can make it work. Plants are amazingly resilient.

I was kidding the other day about being an accidental gardener because of the chile pepper plant that volunteered in one of my flower containers. I don’t usually grow my own vegetables because I’ve got the farmers’ market hookup each summer. But there’s nothing accidental about growing plants – you start with an intention, you pay close attention, you spot problems as they arise and fix them, and eventually, you enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Some people might think I’m crazy for starting a salad garden so late in the season. But when I’m eating fresh lettuce in August, the joke will be on them. Even if the lettuce ends up dying or with some malady and I don’t get to eat any of it, I’m better off for trying the experiment. If that happens, I’ll simply keep trying until it works.

Thanks Hollandia farmers!

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¹ This type of lettuce lends itself really well to growing indoors. For one, it’s lived most of its life indoors. It’s grown hydroponically in California, it’s never touched soil – doesn’t need it. One could easily put it in a bowl of water and keep it on the kitchen counter and enjoy fresh salads for months to come. Or the lettuce could be planted in a pot of soil and kept in the kitchen as well. I opted for outdoors because I have more room out there – my kitchen space is already assigned.

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I’ll be back manana with an all-new Ask the Experts panel and a new plant puzzler. You still have time to submit your guess for last week’s puzzler, in which I asked you to name what was wrong with this plant:

Can you name that plant problem? Feel free to be creative with your answers.

The deadline is tonight at midnight MST (that’s 2a.m. EST). Just leave your best guess or scenario in the comments section. I’ll reveal the winner(s) tomorrow. Remember, the prizes may be imaginary but the glory of winning is oh-so-real. Hope to see you back here.