Lettuce -$0.015 /head

Everyone is talking about the price of food right now. The media is reporting that groceries have increased on average 11% over this time last year. I count myself among the very lucky few that are not quite as strangled by the price of groceries. I’m still spending a lot more every week on staples like toilet paper, olive oil and dog food, but I have freezers full of meat and veggies I’ve produced myself. I can’t imagine the strain that having to buy these things would put on my budget right now.

One food item that’s been in the news a lot lately is lettuce. Apparently the price of lettuce has gone through the roof. Food service establishments are pulling it from their menus. A head of iceberg lettuce is fetching over $7 a head in some stores… if you can find one.

Food security is one of the topics that pushed me into farming. Food is so directly tied to everything… our health, our social interactions, our ability to function and think, our traditions. Access to healthy food is more important than anything; eating provides life, plain and simple. I get so excited to see my CSA customers ripping up their flower beds to find room for planting squash and tomatoes. In my perfect world everybody would grow at least some of their own food. So, back to the lettuce…

Did you know a pack of 200 lettuce seeds costs $2.99 at The Incredible Seed Company? That’s potentially 200 heads of lettuce for the price of half a head at the grocery store ( realistically you’re looking at about a 70% success rate for germination and growth of most seeds, but still…). Did you know you can grow lettuce indoors with very little equipment? Are the wheels turning yet?

Let me be clear that you’re not going to be able to go into the fresh greens business by growing lettuce in your living room, but if you’re organized and persistent, and you can spare a smidgen of space, you CAN have almost-free lettuce for your home use fresh, all year round.

Please understand that the price of lettuce (or any other fresh produce) is not the result of gouging by the farmer. It’s true that lettuce seed is cheap. But for commercial farmers there are a lot of other expenses that factor in… labour, fuel, greenhouses, heating, row covers, electricity, irrigation..the list goes on. If time, nurturing, planning, light, watering and space aren’t things you can provide, check out your local farmers’ market. I betcha the lettuce and other greens will be no higher in price than the supermarket, and they’ll be freshly cut, so they’ll last weeks in your fridge, not days. But if you ARE willing to put a little time and energy into growing your own, here are some ways you can make that happen.

  • Grow your lettuce in a container on a sunny windowsill or under lights. If you have a south-facing window that gets lots of light it’s the perfect spot to grow your lettuce. If not, think about using a full spectrum grow light to give your plants the light they require. You can get a full spectrum bulb for as little as $7 at Home Hardware. That’s the cost of one head of lettuce. You can find full instructions for container growing here.
  • Propagate lettuce leaves cut from a fresh head. Once they’ve started to root you can transfer them to a pot of soil to finish growing. This method doesn’t require seeds!
  • Instead of composting the stump from your Romaine lettuce, place it in water and let it grow you some new lettuce. Once again, no seeds required and it’s a great way to avoid waste. Here’s how!

Here are a few things to consider if you’re going to grow your own:

  • Some varieties grow a lot faster than others. Choose a leaf variety like Bibb instead of a head variety like Iceberg. Not only does it grow faster, but you can fit more in the same space.
  • Don’t harvest the whole lettuce plant at once. Rather, cut leaves as needed but leave a few leaves on the plant so it can continue to grow and provide you with more lettuce. You can harvest leaves as soon as they look big enough for your needs… you don’t have to wait for the plant to reach maturity.
  • Sow several seeds to ensure you are growing enough, and re-plant every 2 weeks. This should provide you with a continuous supply.

Once you’ve discovered how simple it is to grow lettuce inside, why not try out some microgreens or herbs? With a little patience and ingenuity, you can produce a variety of veggies year round in your house and save money while eating healthier. Win win!

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