Photo by Carol Ann Sayle
June is still young, but oddly, just like last year, heat and drought more typical of August is here early. Shall June try to beat the record it set last year, when it uncharacteristically began a string of 50 days, with temperatures over 100 degrees? It was the hottest, driest June on record. A real prize-winner, even for a Texas June.
Alas, we're hoping that this June will not compete for that honor. If it does, then surely our bottom-land shallow well will go dry again, and our crops will wither in the heat. But for now, we farm as if none of that will happen. And, you know, maybe it won't. Doesn't hurt to be at least a bit optimistic. But with 98 degrees and bone-dry soil, it's not easy.
Optimism, however, is fully embodied in the act of saving seed. For starters, it means that you think that there will be a future crop, and even a satisfying harvest. Last week, we cut the tiny seed pods from our favorite lettuce varieties. Don Lupe, our helper who specializes in the transplanting and eventual removal of many of our vegetable crops, has finished cutting out the spent lettuce plants. As he was carting the tall plants to the waiting pile of leaves and vegetable corpses in the compost area, I asked him to divert some to the back of the heirloom tomato beds.
The agonizingly slow dripping well water had not reached the last plants in line in a few beds, and in protest they dropped their leaves. This would not have been a huge problem, out of over a thousand plants, but these thirsty girls had quite a few large tomatoes on them, and we wanted to give them a chance to ripen without being scalded by the blazing sun. So Don Lupe threaded the plants through the tops of the wire baskets, and their tired leaves and stalks now offer shade to the heavy, ripening tomatoes beneath them.
I love it when something serves many functions. We grow lettuce from fall to spring, but the last crop is especially important. First we cut the leaves for salad mixes when the plants are young and the weather is cool, then we allow the lettuces to shoot three feet upwards, towering over even the neighboring rhubarb plants. We intend to save their seeds, as most lettuces come true to their type. At that tall stage they bloom their little yellow daisy-like flowers.
The petals drop off and next the seeds' furry white fluff--very dandelion-looking--crown the seed pods. We cut the pods off in the late afternoon and lay them on a plate to continue to dry. After a week of drying, we separate the seeds from the chaff and store them in the refrigerator in a little jar where they will dream of becoming the next generation of lettuce on the farm. But right now, some of their relatives are still riding high upon the tomato baskets, protecting next week's heirloom tomatoes. Given this versatility, lettuce is, you might say, a perfect crop.
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