Fields of Lettuce and Tomato

the field of lettuce three weeks ago, before the tomatoes took over

I was planning to blog about the field of lettuce growing in my garden, but that thesis took over and since then it’s become a field of lettuce and tomato, with lettuce getting pretty dismal and tomato in ascendency. A month ago when it was just a lettuce field, I gave one to my neighbour and he said it was so much tastier than shop bought lettuce and what did I do to make them grow so well? I was at a loss for words. I don’t think “water them every day” was the answer he was looking for. Then I realised what it was.

lettuce going to seed

They are the variety Lactuca sativa ‘compostus’ ie they come up where I put down compost. I like one variety in particular and let it go to seed and add the whole plant, seeds and all, to the compost. My compost doesn’t get hot enough to kill seeds, so compost lettuce* grows in profusion. The lettuce is an actual variety, but I’m not sure of its name. It looks vaguely like ‘Bubbles’ in my vegie book [1]. The seeds aren’t hybrids and breed true so I concluded they have a pretty good genetic make-up for the conditions they encounter in my garden, thus they grow well. There have been other varieties growing from my compost in the past (eg. red oakleaf), but I didn’t like eating them and never let them go to seed. I probably should bring some genetic variety into the mix and there is one plant of another green variety that I was going to let go to seed, but it’s been taking a hammering from the sun and isn’t looking too happy. Also I have no red lettuce, so I need to get some seed of that.

a tiny snail on my paving

Snails enjoy fields of lettuce, so I poisoned them with iron chelate bait (only harmful to slugs and snails, not dogs, cats, bob-tails or other critters). There’s still the occasional tiny snail or slug you have to pick out of the lettuce. I wonder if they don’t eat the poison cause it’s the same size as them. You also have to wash the lettuce thoroughly to dislodge any other critters and cut the chewed (or sun burnt) bits off leaves. Despite this (possible) added protein, it’s yummy lettuce. I initially didn’t have aphids on the lettuce – they were too busy on my everlasting daisies (which flowered beautifully despite the attacks), but I think they’ve moved onto the lettuce. Apart from decimating anything they come across, if you find leaves that aren’t too badly eaten, aphids aren’t dislodged by washing. You have to pick them off one at a time, or else pretend you don’t see them, which I have trouble doing. I have a recipe for a soap insecticide from Safer Pest Control for Australian Homes & Gardens [2], but haven’t got around to it making – stupid thesis :(

tommy toe seedlings before planting

The ascendant tomatoes aren’t compost tomatoes* which pop up in their millions. I was pulling up any I found, but they’ve dropped off now. They grow from shop bought tomato seeds in the compost and the quality of progeny is too variable for my liking. I don’t quite understand how the number of compost tomatoes occurs. I eat the seeds of tomatoes I buy and I don’t put whole tomatoes in the compost. I know the occasional seed gets left on the chopping board, but how can occasional seeds lead to the astronomical numbers I pull up!?

Unlike last year I planted tomatoes earlier this spring – five tomato varieties from which I know exactly what to expect. Theoretically this would mean my crop would produce before it gets too hot, but after 3 days over 30°C in October and 7 in November I don’t know how this’ll go. I liked the Tommy Toes (cherry tomato variety) I grew last year and I’ve planted them again. My friend Anouska had too many seedlings of a Roma variety she’s breed for two seasons, and they were planted earlier than the others so had a head start. The other three types are from Diggers seed (a number of which are the free seed members get two times a year). One was a 5 colour selection (take note Mr & Mrs Shaddow) which included:

tomatoes taking over

  • Sugarlump
  • Napoli Paste
  • Red Greenwich
  • Black Russian
  • Yellow Peach
  • Green Zebra
  • Orange Jaune Flammee

The above and Amish Paste were past their used-by-date, but that didn’t stop seedlings emerging in profusion. I don’t like eating strange coloured tomatoes, so the 5 colour selection went to other garden homes (and because you can’t tell which they are before they fruit, they’re surprise tomatoes). The fifth is Martino Roma, which had the farthest away used-by-date. At first only three seedlings grew (when the germination rate is 96%), but then I disturbed the soil a bit when I removed one seedling and more came up. So I ended up with more than three Martino Roma seedlings and still have seeds for next summer.

roma tomato starting to fruit Now the tomatoes are growing well in the garden beds and Anouska’s Roma are starting to fruit, although they’re still small. Before fruiting began I was meant to focus on bugs. Last summer I didn’t use my uncle’s suggestion of a spray of garlic and chilli to kill tomato grubs (Helicoverpa armigera), but I’d hoped to get the recipe and be using it by now. Maybe one day soon.


*Note: compost lettuce, tomatoes, etc grow from my compost – I don’t remove them from the compost after they’ve rotted a bit, which someone thought when I talked about them. My compost is not the best example of compost in action, because if you’re doing it “right” the 40-70ºC heat produced kills any seeds, but my garden and I don’t mind. My compost does get pretty hot though because when I find a half eaten rodent courtesy of Wicca the cat (or a whole one when he’s feeling especially generous) I bury it 30cm deep in the compost and there’s no smell or other evidence of it ever existing.

Gardening Books

  1. 500 Popular Vegetables, Herbs, Fruit & Nuts for Australian Gardeners (1999) Milsons Point, NSW: Random House
  2. Rogers, Paul (1986) Safer Pest Control for Australian Homes and Gardens Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press

One thought on “Fields of Lettuce and Tomato

  1. Hi Clare, loved your lettuce leaves ‘letter’. I’m a virtual gardener these days because I’m living and working in UAE for a while. So I read about what gardeners are growing and resist the urge to grow cocktail tomatoes and salad leaves in a pot. Cheers, Jenny.

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