Without students on campus this spring, you might wonder how it is that we have a bed full of lettuce. Though it could have been planted by community gardeners living on campus, that is not the case. The students indeed were involved. Last fall, we saved the seed. This involves letting the plants fully mature, past the beautiful, edible lettuce stage, to where the plant bolts and sends up a stalk that bears yellow flowers that subsequently fade as the plant’s energy goes into making seeds. Though the appearance may be that of an unkempt and weedy space, in a sustainable garden, this stage of life is just as beautiful as the luscious looking produce. Allowing some plants to go to seed is the hope for the next growing season. Students pinched off the dried heads, dumped the tiny black seeds into their hands and then stored them in paper envelopes.
While collecting the lettuce seed, we observed that some seed had fallen to the ground and had already sprouted in the fall. This was an encouraging sign that the seed was fully mature and able to germinate when planted in the spring. The fall seedlings, however, were not likely to survive the winter. This spring’s lettuce crop came up from seed that fell in the fall and overwintered in the soil as seed, waiting until the soil temperature and moisture were just right to launch their new growth. This time, nature thrived even when we could not tend to it.
Start your own seed saving hobby by planting open-pollinated or heirloom varieties in your garden this year!