I have to share this timely snippet from Mr Middleton’s book written 70 years ago in 1941 ‘Your Garden in Wartime’:
April. Filling the Salad Bowl.
I hope you are having a good time with the seed packets, and not wasting too much time watching to see if the things are coming up. One of the first things l want to talk about today is the salad bowl. We are all interested in food values just now, and later on we shall all be eating beans and carrots and potatoes, and getting as fat as pigs if we are not careful. So to balance the diet, and keep ourselves fit, we are told we must eat plenty of green leaves, and we must eat them raw, not cooked, because cooking destroys some of the mysterious substances called vitamins which we hear so much about. There are several of them, and by all accounts they are very necessary and important, they help to digest the other food, keep your eyes bright and your complexion clear, and prevent your hair falling out. In fact, the vitamins do us more good and keep us in better health than a daily dose of medicine.
Mr Middleton goes on to say that most vitamins are found in green leaves and especially lettuce leaves stating ‘So if you want to keep fit, eat plenty of lettuce’. There is an element of truth in that even today l suppose but we know a lot more regarding our health and realise that lettuce leaves are not a magic ‘cure all’! They contribute towards a healthy diet but exercise plays its part too, as he goes on in telling us how to grow them:
The first thing to remember about lettuces, and indeed all salads, is that we want crisp tender leaves, which means they must be grown quickly without checks or delays in good soil that does not get dry. You can’t grow nice tender lettuces on shallow, dry soil in the hot baking sun. Apart from that, they are very accommodating, you can grow them among the other crops alongside the celery trench, or in any odd corner so long as there is some good soil there….the way to keep up a nice, steady supply is to make very small sowings, just a short row, about once a week from now till the middle of August….you can sow the seed sparingly in drills, half an inch deep, and thin them out when they come up to nine inches apart, or you can sow them on the seed-bed and transplant them when ready.
Some of the old varieties he suggests trying are: cabbage types: Trocadero, Continuity, and Commodore Nutt and cos or tall varieties: Balloon Giant White and Jumbo. I haven’t come across these varieties but perhaps a heritage seed company still stocks them.
He tells us that ‘ the main thing with lettuces, and all other salads, is not to let them get too dry. I don’t believe in watering vegetables as a rule, but salads are different, you can’t get tender, juicy leaves if the roots are dry’.