At a recent dinner with my in-laws, I went all out to impress them: hors d’oeuvres, local cheeses and organic wine. But things didn’t go as planned. As I was getting out the wine glasses, my mother-in-law said from a distance: “You’re spoiling us tonight, Francis!
I was delighted, but to my surprise, she wasn’t talking about the appetizers I had bought for the cocktail party, but about the bowl of salad that sat at the end of the table.
“Is that from your garden?” She asked.
The bowl was filled with lettuce, straight from my garden, and it was the middle of November when a lettuce shortage was hitting much of North America. My efforts to grow my own vegetables had suddenly become worthwhile.
If you followed the news at all in the fall of 2022, you probably heard about the exorbitant prices lettuce was reaching.
Lettuce Be Honest
Without going into the details that explain the sky-high prices of this beloved vegetable, let me give you an overview. A few factors should be mentioned to provide some context.
First of all, we’re talking about lettuce imported from California, especially the romaine and iceberg varieties. It must be said that many (too many?) of our fruits and vegetables come from this American state. So much so that California’s agri-food problems have the potential to affect the price of the grocery basket of many North Americans.
In this case, drought conditions and the falling Canadian dollar are said to have contributed heavily to these price increases. Some people also talk about diseases that would have wreaked havoc, not to mention everything that causes inflation…
In short, supply is down because there’s less salad on the market, but demand remains. And there you have it, the perfect cocktail for an overpriced Caesar salad.
Back to the Lettuce at Hand
Now you can see why my mother-in-law was so happy to eat fresh lettuce! In fact, she had probably been depriving herself of it for some time. You can also see that this greenery came from the garden as fall was well underway. My trick? A cold frame.
In fact, it was the Laidback gardener who made me want to try a greenhouse made of old windows after reading his article. Actually, the science behind this concept is quite simple. The idea is to create a space where the temperature remains tolerable for cold-hardy varieties of plants in order to keep them alive in the soil. Following the onion principle, layers of air are created to conserve heat. A bit like dressing for a cold day. When you are warm, you remove a peel. In the garden, we want to conserve the heat of the soil in addition to capturing that of the sun.
Here’s what it looks like around my place:
Equipement and Experience
I’ve tried the old salvaged windows trick. It works, but several times I had to pick up broken glass from my yard. Also, I had trouble storing the heavy wooden structures during the warm season. Now I use a tunnel that consists of hoops, poles and a clear canvas and it’s easy to store.
But the learning process continues and I, as a young padawan, keep in mind the lessons of the Laidback gardener. After some trial and error, I have also determined which varieties of leafy greens are, for us, both profitable, easy to grow and enjoyed by all. Growing vegetables is all well and good…but you have to eat them.
In Conclusion, Here Is My Summary Analysis in Three Points
- Timing: I start my seedlings towards the end of the summer in order to plant them in the ground at the beginning of September. It’s important to understand that in the fall, the photoperiod decreases day by day. The amount of sunshine decreases and the plants have less and less light while dealing with cooler temperatures. It is therefore necessary to plant your vegetables before fall sets in to give them time to grow.
- The right candidate is the cold-tolerant vegetable: In addition to having grown sufficiently, a vegetable grown in fall conditions must survive the vagaries of the cold season. To do this, a lazy gardener should choose cold-tolerant vegetables such as members of the cabbage family (Brassicas) and many leafy greens. Remember that protection (cold layer) does not provide the necessary growing conditions for a tropical plant such as the tomato.
- Producing locally and out of season might be worth it (more and more) : Ironically, this lettuce story has had a profound effect on me. Between the pandemic, climate change, inflation and global economic instability, growing vegetables on my own at low cost is looking more and more like a cost-saving solution. Who knows what the future holds?
In any case, my family and I are already enjoying it, and we plan to keep eating garden salad, with or without inflation.
Here’s a look at what’s left of our garden as of December 18, 2022. We’ll be eating (extra) local and organic salad this holiday season. It was a bit surreal.