Maštíŋčathawote su

Lettuce. It’s native to Egypt and has long been cultivated in Eurasia. It’s a relatively recent arrival over here. It’s called “maštíŋčathawote” in Lakota. Literally, rabbit food.

I got a few baby lettuce plants at the Free Farm Stand in San Francisco a few years ago. I have been growing their descendants ever since.

Sú. Seeds.Sometimes, they reseed themselves in my garden, but mostly, they need to be replanted every year. Unlike wild dandelions and other plants whose seed pods burst and release into the wind, these well-behaved domestic lettuce seeds dry out inside their flower heads in the stalk, and wait for a human to collect and replant them.

This is a pretty easy seed-saving project, once the flower heads dry out. I saved it for winter just because I didn’t have time in the fall.

If you gently crush a seed pod between your fingers, the seeds and fluff will release. Rub the contents between your fingers a little more, and the seeds will separate out.

Not all of my lettuce flowers got pollinated, so not all of my lettuce seeds will be viable. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference when you’re holding the seeds in your hand.

These ones, with lighter colored, thinner seeds, are not fertilized (ie not viable):

These darker, thicker ones are fertilized and should produce lettuce plants:

This same principle for telling if your seeds are viable also works for marigolds and flowers whose seeds have a similar shape. If the seed is big enough, you can gently try to bend it lengthwise. If it is flimsy and bends easily, it didn’t get pollinated and will not produce a plant.

Lettuce is easy to grow, sprouts quickly, is cold tolerant, and is a great vegetable to start indoors this time of year. Thinning out your plants before they go in the ground can be the first salad of the year! Or, you can just grow them for the delicious baby greens.

Here’s a pic of my lettuce sprouts in last summer’s garden.

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