The rows of green salad bowl and buttercrunch lettuce that I'd planted in the shade of a line of hard maples and shagbark hickories are growing faster than the red salad bowl lettuce out in the sun. I'd planted the red in the sun because otherwise, when I've tried to grow red salad bowl under shadecloth, it's come out green.
The shadows are lengthening, noticeably.
Basically the whole crop is owed to Grandpa and Uncle Huck, one way or another, as they loaned me the old Massey Fergeson 65 and the three bottom plow, then the six foot disk, and then the old offset Cub for cultivating. They also purchased the seed and the granular, certified-composted chicken manure.
I haven't actually applied the “organic” granules, yet, because we haven't been up to Seymour to load them, and I'm shocked at how fast the lettuce I planted two weeks ago is growing. It's a puzzler. Any other place I've been, even if it looked like you had good, dark, topsoil, if you didn't apply tons of manure or something, the lettuce would not grow. It would sprout, and a week later you'd still just have those two, tiny, symmetrical leaves. Two weeks later, you'd still have nothing but a sprout. Then you'd dump some kind of foliar fertilizer on them, and they'd immediately start growing like weeds.
We had been dumping catfish heads, guts, and coffee grounds out there all spring, and when my son and I had cleared about a one acre thicket of elm saplings and poison ivy vines, we'd lit some nice bonfires, and later used buckets to spread the ash in rows over the sand — ash being high in calcium and potassium which is what this phosphorus-rich sand is low in. Also I had drunk a lot of beer and coffee over the previous month in the course of writing my farming memoir, 101 Ways to Strike Out, and every time I'd gone outside to get away from the damn laptop screen, readjust my eyes, and take a leak, I'd peed where the lettuce was going to be planted.
There's more to the explanation why this lettuce is growing faster than I've ever seen, even though I didn't apply the dorky “organic,” sterilized, expensive, fruity pebbles yet. We'd gotten a six-inch flash flood one night at the end of June, and in the morning the whole quarter acre had been covered by a foot of water from the surrounding sand hills, in which literally millions of some kind of tree frog were swimming around, fornicating, laying eggs for several days. The waters receded and the frogs hopped back to the trees. “Could they have somehow added fertility, maybe by laying all those eggs, most of which would have been trapped in what was then about five inches of clover and crabgrass?” I ask myself.
I asked Grandpa the other day as he was driving me down to Salem for our 20th attempt to get Spec a driver's license. “You think it was the tree frogs, or could it have been all the nitrogen they'd applied in March to those wheat fields around the place leached in to our lower ground?”
“Well, Spec, you also got to remember most of that field was a hog pen for a good while, back in the fifties and sixties. And anytime ground is not farmed for a long time, it's going to raise a good crop.”
Grandpa had to drive me to the license branch TWICE that day because I went in there with two I.D. cards, one from California and one from Indiana.
“I've never seen anything like this,” said the friendly woman with the blonde curls dark at the roots. “California issued you an I.D. with an Indiana address. But the Indiana card has a different address.”
“Yeah, that's my place,” said Grandpa. “Spec was staying with us when he got that I.D”
“I'm sorry, but now we'll have to verify the correct address, which is on the California card? We'll need phone bills, electric bills — ”
So Grandpa had driven me to Salem twice, and in the end we still ended up lacking the expiration date on my California license. “One step closer, though,” he said, philosophically as he gassed up his truck.