Monday, April 5, 2010

Living Lettuce, meet Zombie Cress

I can still remember the first time I saw a "living lettuce" for sale at a grocery store. I thought it was the coolest thing there, and wanted my mother to buy it; she thought it was five times the price of any other head of lettuce, and declined. If I wanted to play with salad leaves, she said, I should go talk to my grandmother, who would help me grow some of my own.

Oddly, I don't remember whether I actually did; my mind's eye offers peas and mint and potatoes and a kiwi, but no kid-sized lettuce garden. Ah, well; I've grown a great deal of it over the years. But I'm still a little intrigued by the gimmicky-but-definsible living lettuce in its sturdy clear plastic casing. For many people, this is the only way they'll ever taste a freshly harvested lettuce leaf! One of these days, I really am going to buy one for myself, if only to compare the taste to my own aquaponically grown or more traditional lettuce.

More recently, I've been seeing living basil, another hydroponically grown item sold with its roots and a bit of nutrient fluid; these plants come in plastic bags that always remind me of buying pet fish, and like the living lettuce they have instructions for extending the viability of the crop. I found myself tempted by those, too; particularly if you're only using a leaf at a time, it might even make economic sense. (Assuming you can't grow your own.)

But the irrestistible item turned out to be some hydroponically grown upland cress from my local Sun Harvest. With some crops, you can't always tell if they were hydro or not just by looking, like tomatoes on the vine. But the cress was sold in the same square blocks it was grown in, dense root-pack yet intact. Sadly, the roots hadn't been kept wetted, but they hadn't been on display for long enough to dry, so I decided to buy a square.

Well, two, actually. Ate the first one, had to go back. What? I like cresses!

Cress-block in hand, I hurried home to get the poor roots into some water. My kitchen having suffered a recent outbreak of fruit flies, I wanted something a bit more substantial than a glass of water or a vase, so went with my one and only retail self-watering pot, a cute little two-part container with a glazed exterior pot and unglazed insert, reservoir space between. And for added security, I packed a bit of Spanish moss around the cress stems before setting the whole on a counter within view but out of the way. (Outdoors only long enough to take a picture.)

I've been nibbling the odd leaf now and then, but the bulk of the block's still viable. The leaves that were bruised during transport are long gone, of course, as are the ones injured by the rubber band. Some just never perked up again, too long away from their fluid, I guess. As well, a couple have yellowed as if from nitrogen deficiency--these are not still in their hydroponic set-up, after all, but only in water to keep them from wilting. No matter the appearance of new lobes on the stems, this is really not a living, growing, eating, increasing, plant, just not yet quite dead, and still crisp and yummy.

Folks keep standard post-harvest leaf lettuce alive this way, too. It's not the same as the living lettuce, but again, keeps the leaves usable for longer--a lot longer than just tossing the bag in the fridge. For folks who don't garden or like me can't grow enough leafy produce, don't care to hit the grocer every few days, and/or are more likely to use a leaf if it's right in front of them, this might well be worth the small change in habit it takes: less waste, better value for dollars spent, and all the rest.

For me, I'm thinking it's time to eat the rest of that cress. Or, maybe not quite all of it; I could divert a small section to one of my tiny vermiponics experiments, just to see. A couple of worms, some Spanish moss, a little bokashi juice...

Excuse me, I'm off to go play with my food. -G-


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