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Crop of the week: Baby Romaine
• Harvesting of baby leaf vegetables is now under way in Yuma County. The area produced about 19,000 acres of baby leaf salad items in 2011. The planting starts the beginning of October and continues until mid-February. The most popular baby leaf varieties are ready to harvest between 28 and 35 days after planting and can be harvested repeatedly.
• The convenience of pre-washed, pre-cut, bagged baby leaf salads has helped boost production of bagged salads since 1998.
• Yuma is home to nine salad processing plants, which use a variety of lettuce varieties to produce bagged salads that are supplied to consumers throughout the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe during the winter months.
• Bagged salads may have revolutionized the produce aisles of the supermarket as more prepared vegetables — such as diced onions and chopped celery — have started to appear alongside bagged salads, suggesting to consumers that they can have a wider variety of vegetables for cooking or sandwich making with very little work.
• The beauty of a baby leaf salad is the combination of many different tastes and textures that range from sweet, soft, subtle or bitter. Baby romaine lettuces are grown at a very high density where the leaves are harvested at very young stage. They are washed and pre-packaged in leafy-green mixtures that may include Japanese mustard, red mustard, hon tsai tai, multiple lettuce cultivars, spinach, arugula and Swiss chard.
• Baby leaf salads are generally harvested by highly specialized harvesting machines. Harvested leaves are transferred to state-of-the-art packing houses, the leaves are chilled, and packed into “sterile and ready-to-eat” bags.
• Romaine lettuce is the most nutrient-rich lettuce. Its darker color indicates it's more nutritious and tastier as well. This dark leafy red contains anthocyanin and xeazanthin, carotenoids that help keep eyes healthy.
• Romaine varieties of lettuce can be kept in a refrigerator for up to a week after purchase. Do not store lettuce next to bananas, apples, pears or tomatoes as the ethylene that these fruits give off will brown lettuce prematurely.
• Romaine is the American term for this long leafed lettuce, also called cos or cos lettuce (mainly with those from Britain) because it is said to have originated on the Greek island of Cos (Kos), off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. Romaine has been cultivated and eaten cooked or raw for almost 5,000 years and is probably the oldest form of cultivated lettuce. Egyptian tombs reveal paintings of lettuce with long, pointed leaves, resembling Romaine.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904.