Lettuce Mini Heads
These heads get about half as large as the "regular" sized lettuce heads (they're about 6 inches across). That enables us to put a couple of heads in a bag to create a lettuce mix. We can put a leaf lettuce in with a romaine or a red lettuce in with a green lettuce. It gives the customer more variety.
Lettuce mixes are popular, but producing a lettuce mix has its own set of problems. First of all, it's time consuming. Taking several types of lettuce and cutting it up, then washing it and spinning it dry, finally packing it (by weight). We tried it a few times and it took too much work to be profitable (since we do it by hand). So we give the customer a couple different types of lettuce and let them do the cutting up and mixing.
Another problem is that around here we can use a knife to harvest the vegetables. But if we take that knife and cut the vegetable up into small pieces, that constitutes processing. That requires Board of Health inspections and permits. But just putting different types of lettuce in a bag avoids that hassle.
We can't sell two mini heads for twice the price of one regular head so we have to cut back on our harvest procedure. The regular sized heads get pulled up with the root attached. The soil is washed off the root and the whole head is washed and packed. Washing the root takes time, so the mini heads are just cut off of the root out in the field and we only pick off the outer leaves and wash the head. Less labor so the mini head mix has a price similar to the regular head.
Keeping the root on the head of lettuce lengthens the storage time for a fresh head of lettuce. We've had lettuce stay crisp and fresh for three weeks as long as it's in the fridge and the root is kept moist. The plant is still alive so it is still fresh. Our customers say that they usually eat the lettuce within a couple of days, so for the mini heads, cutting off the root in the field doesn't appear to impact the usefulness of the bag of lettuce.
Another reason for leaving the root on is that when a head of lettuce is taken to a farmers market it has to be kept cool or it wilts in the sun. We don't have an ice maker at the farm, but with the root left on, a tub of cool water is sufficient to keep the lettuce looking good at the market.
This lettuce is Dancine. It's a mini butterhead type. We grew it last year and it did very well in the spring, but not so well in the summer or fall. We'll be trying some new varieties for the hot weather this year but we don't have anything ready yet. See below for some of the other mini-head varieties we are growing this year.