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Lettuce be Friends

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Lettuce be Friends
Photo by Christina Nifong

The temperature dipped this week in our Blue Ridge Mountain backyard. Lows in the 40s. The first cold snap of what the weather sages say will be a wicked winter.

My garden didn’t seem to notice. It’s filled with cold-hearty kale and arugula and burrowed-in turnips and carrots. There is one corner, though, that I’ve got to keep my eye on.

It’s my lettuce patch. Specifically, my winter lettuce crop. I try to keep some variety — oak leaf or Bibb, Romaine or red leaf — standing tall for as many months as I can.

Here, in planting zone 7a, I do without my salad greens during July’s scorch. But in mid-August, I’m planting fall lettuce and then waiting for the leaves to lengthen.

By October, the salad’s abundant, but I’m looking ahead to a hard frost that could turn those veins to ice.

That’s where my cold frame comes in. A simple square of wood, covered with a stiff sheet of plastic, held together with a hook and eye, this poor-man’s greenhouse sits atop four feet by four feet of dirt — and the new lettuce seeds I tossed down last week.

They are the last of the seeds I will sprinkle till March, the last babies I’ll coax into food this calendar year. Because of that, they are the most precious. Perhaps the only spot of green in the yard during the bleak, dark days.

Today, they are fragile, just a whisper of the Caesar I hope to eat this winter. But even a late season sun, magnified by the cold-frame’s roof, will be enough to coax them to grow. Snug in their cozy house, these sprouts should shoot up and become a blast from another season just when I need it most.

Fresh from the garden lettuce in January in Southwest Virginia? Maybe. If I get it right.