Why Lettuce?

Lettuce seed heads

The team from the London Freedom Seed Bank had us all enthralled last week at Incredible Edible Lambeth’s Seed Saving Event, held at the beautiful South London Botanical Institute.

Julie Riehl and Charlotte Dove provided a wealth of information about the whys and hows of seed saving. Charlotte reminded us why it was so vital (given the 93% loss in food seed varieties worldwide) and provided the background to the work of the Seed Bank whilst Julie gave a great drawn presentation on how seeds propagate and how to start seed saving.

Who would have thought the humble lettuce could be so interesting? Artist Richard Galpin has a wealth of knowledge about the lettuce – everything from why it was considered a sedative (think Peter Rabbit and the bunnies falling asleep behind the potting shed), to it being considered an aphrodisiac in Egyptian times, to the fact that the red flecks in some varieties such as the Bloody Cos and Forellenschluss (Speckled Trout Back) are thought to have antioxidant qualities and may repel insects.

The key message from all this is how amazing it is that there are so many lettuce varieties out there and how once you start seed-saving, you can become totally absorbed by it!

Richard Galpin's seed cleaning machineRichard has now bred a new red flecked variety of lettuce particularly selected for resilience to London’s growing conditions and is looking for interested growers to help trial the new variety. He also demonstrated a brilliant Heath Robinson open-source seed cleaning machine which, by the way, anyone could build from scrap materials and a vacuum cleaner. The plans are available online.

The message was clear – we can all seed save!

Yes, it is illegal to sell saved seeds, but if we grow vegetables we need to be looking out for the strongest plants to save for seed collection at the end of the season; and then share them with our friends and neighbours. It is an act of rebellion against the seed companies. At IEL we are keen on a spot of rebellion.

Photos: courtesy of Richard Galpin