Get A (non-metaphorical) Yield!

That expression, “Get a Yield,” comes from the sublime wisdom of permaculture, which is a philosophy of and set of techniques for sustainable human living on the earth, first articulated under the permaculture label by some very smart Australians named Mollison and Holmgren.    Pure permaculture is a lot to chew on (metaphorically), so I’m going to give you something you can really chew on while you’re doing all that metaphorical chewing. 

Sustainably designing human civilization can get quite sophisticated and abstruse, but the “Get a Yield” bit always reminds me that permaculturists aren’t just pie-in-the-sky dreamers.  Basically what the phrase means  is that with any long-range plan, design, or system, there should be some small pay-offs almost right away.  A garden can be a lot like a long-range plan…in fact, it is a long-range plan, and at this time of year it’s quite apparent that most of the work being done, say, in the seed room will pay off only much later in the season. Notice I said most.  Leave it to the humble lettuce to throw down a yield both now and later.
I plant a lot of my lettuce starts in flats of potting soil, dropping the seed into a few evenly-spaced furrows.  After about 5 weeks under the lights the lettuce is up strong, pretty much filling the tray, looking all a greengrocer’s dream.

To eat them now or to eat them later?….that is the question.

In fact, lettuce at this stage is as perfect as it gets – so vibrantly colored and buttery-tender.  No plastic box of baby greens in the produce section of the most fru-fru market can even approximate the delicacy of the greens that I grow in the seed room.  What an amazing salad it could make.  But would I shoot myself in the foot (another metaphor, thankfully!) by eating the lettuce at so tender an age, effectively robbing myself of the heads for which I seeded the crop in the first place.  Would I get only one day’s harvest from something that could feed me  and my family for weeks if I just had the self-control to plant it out and wait?  Nay, nay!  I’ll both have my metaphorical cake and eat it, too. By taking a cutting of the lettuce at its tender, baby stage I not only get a delicious salad for my table, but I actually make planting out easier.
To transplant lettuce from a flat one has to gently tease the individual root systems apart.  I usually make sure the soil is well soaked, then tug ever so lightly on a single stem, trying for an individual plant with some soil still clinging to the roots.   Problem is, the leaves, which are all entangled in each other at this 5-week point, complicate the separation.  If I clear-cut the leaves, however, being careful not to damage the growing area at the base, I make it at least ten times easier to separate the plants for transplanting.  George Washington would have approved of this method: no entangling alliances.

Clear cut to the right, awaiting cut to the left.

Some of you may be realizing that although this is a win-win for the gardener, it can’t be that for the lettuce.  Yes, I’ll grant you that with some of their main leaves gone the plants get going a bit slower when transplanted , but soon enough they catch up, especially if the weather is favorable or if they have some cloche-like cover to protect them.  And a little liquid fertilizer at planting out is a nice way to say, “Sorry about the knock down, mates, but here’s a little grog to help you pull yourselves back together.”  They get over it pretty fast.
So what’s not to like about this system?  While planning for future meals I am still feeding myself right now and making my work easier in the process.  It’s money in the bank (metaphor), a one-two punch (metaphor), an ace in the pocket (metaphor), or maybe it’s just lettuce on the plate when the garden is otherwise mostly bare.  No metaphor there, just the best darn tastin’, right-now yield you can get your teeth on.

Now the tray awaits teasing apart – made much easier by removing the top growth – and the tender leaves await a good dressing.