The featured vegetable this month is the lowly lettuce, readily available from every supermarket, even available in exotic varieties at specialty foodsellers such as Whole Foods. Why, then, feature it for gardeners? Because if you get enjoyment from eating the fruits - or vegetables - of your labors, there is nothing as easy, delicious or versatile as lettuce to satisfy. Radishes are easier, but how many ways - and how often - can you eat radishes? Tomatoes are psychically more satisfying, but you can't grow tomatoes in February and they can be temperamental even for the most experienced growers. With lettuce you can't go wrong, it's delicious, and you can eat it every day.
There are two ways of growing your own lettuce: you can start them from seed or from transplants. You will have a much larger variety available to you if you start them from seed. I currently have 7-8 varieties in my vegetable garden right now, with more seedlings coming along in the greenhouse. (And interestingly, they were not adversely affected by the frigid weather, and we got down into the high 20's every night for at least a week). You do not need a greenhouse to start the seeds - in some ways it is easier to start them in the house, as they germinate best if they are kept warm. They are fast to germinate and easy to start. Take care not to bury them too deep - a very light dusting of soil on top is all that they need. Make sure to keep them moist - they will probably need water every day at first. They can be transplanted out after a few weeks, once they are strong enough to be handled.
Lettuce does best if protected from hard rains. It is easy to rig up a 'tent' with remay and the 5/8 flexible irrigation tubing.
When you pick it you can either cut the whole head or pick individual leaves from each variety, producing your very own 'Sonoma baby greens' salad. Add a dressing of local olive oil and vinegar and you are truly eating off the land.
Lettuce seeds are availabe at any hardware stores and at specialty seed purveyors such as Thompson and Morgan. Lettuce transplants are available at Cottage Gardens in Petaluma, Sonoma Mission Gardens in Sonoma, and many home and hardware stores.