Tag Archives: garden heat stress

Why is my salad so awful?

It is officially mid-summer around here on Long Island NY.  The days are very hot, sticky and humid. Awesome weather if you are a plant I guess.  It is the kind of weather that makes you crave a cool refreshing salad with produce picked right off the garden. IMG_4272

Since our tomatoes have so far refused to turn any shade of red, we have been hitting our lettuces and the like pretty heavily. So much that some have now grown very tall and look like some sort of palm tree.IMG_4390

A few evenings ago I went out to collect an assortment of greens for a fresh dinner salad. I picked about a pound of leaves altogether. I had red ones, green ones, mottled ones, smooth ones and ruffled ones too, a good looking mixed bunch. IMG_4066

I washed it, spin dried it, chopped it, and then mixed it with cucumber I picked early that day, some red onion and store bought tomato.  For dressing I used a quick balsamic vinaigrette, nothing fancy but a favorite at our house.

I don’t think I exaggerate when I say our salad tasted as if I had made it with freshly picked oak leaves. Crunchy and fresh but awfully bitter.  After washing the taste with plenty of water, my mind rushed to the garden, what were we going to do with all that lettuce still out there? There was still plenty of lettuce, radicchio and Swiss chard to feed our family for a few days.  The thought of having to trash it all was not a happy one, I hate to waste food.IMG_4251

An online search on bitter lettuce will lead you to bolting lettuce, and will give you suggestions on how to prevent or minimize the bitterness in leafy greens. Below are some I have tried and somewhat seem to work for us.

Heat not only makes lettuce go to seed (bolting), but somewhat stresses the lettuce and that makes it taste bitter, so avoid picking leaves during or at the end of the day. I find it best to harvest the lettuce very early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm up too much. IMG_4388

Collect all the leaves in a container with cold water. I actually use water with ice cubes, as at this time of year the water coming out of the faucet never gets cold enough.IMG_4289 IMG_4362

Wash, select and hydrate the lettuce by placing the leaves right side up in a bowl with cold water for at least 6 hours.  We make mixed heads of lettuce by placing the smaller leaves in the center and surround them with larger leaves.IMG_4368 IMG_4305

Once the leaves are well hydrated, drain them and store them in the fridge inside zip lock bags.IMG_4392 IMG_4394

Of course, taking care of late season lettuce as detailed above does not make it as sweet as it was in the spring when it was young and tender, but certainly makes it a lot less bitter and definitely edible. Also, once you mix it with other vegetables and a nice salad dressing, any hint of leftover bitterness cannot be tasted. Nonetheless, avoid using the older tougher leaves, or stems of those greens that have turned fuzzy, those are definitely best in your compost.

Hope this works for you too, even if it gets you a couple more decent salads it is well worth it. In a few weeks you can start all over again with a new planting for fall and early winter harvest.

For more information on keeping lettuce check one of my older posts

Heat damage control

We had a great weekend away, but upon coming back we were faced with a very sad looking garden. The terrible heat wave that hit Long Island at the end of last week had no mercy on our garden, and even some heat tolerant plants looked sad and listless. The worst looking plants were of course the lettuce, which appeared as if someone had boiled them, and the radishes which had folded over and drooped over the sides of the tiered bed. Sunday afternoon, I spent a few hours watering, pruning  and trying to prop up all the fallen plants. All the photos in this blog were taken between yesterday and today. In retrospect, I wish I had taken some photographs to record how bad the situation was when we came home, but my mind was on trying to save what was there.

IMG_0326
Red sails lettuce in recovery, new growth at the top
IMG_0329
After three days, radishes are still standing but showing some burn scars
IMG_0324
We lost some cukes in the heat

This morning, the garden’s condition changed from critical to stable, but under close supervision.  The lettuce is once again up, there is new growth towards the top and it is  looking bright and healthy. The radishes seem to have managed well also, and the celery stalks feel firm in spite of the brown edges on their leaves. We lost a few cucumbers on the vine, that withered in the intense heat, and since our bees do not seem to know how to pollinate zucchini, I can see some flowers failed to produce fruit. In the intense heat, however, the peppers, eggplants, tomatoes,  acorn squash, and  basil seem to have gotten stronger.

IMG_0298
We will get some radishes after all
IMG_0305
Tomatoes managed well, even with some charred leaves
IMG_0317
Hot peppers getting hotter
IMG_0306
No worries here
IMG_0319
Turnip seedlings still doing fine
IMG_0302
Squash are nice and plump

Since we do like to travel in the summers, the goal for next year will be to improve the reach of my sprinklers to cover the garden area, any suggestions are welcomed. As an immediate solution this year I will try to improve the ground cover with extra straw to help keep the ground from baking in the sun if we happen to go away during a couple of very hot days. As I write this post, I can hear loud thunder outside, and the forecast calls for rains the next couple of days.