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Crop of the week: Heirloom cimmarron lettuce
• The cimarron is one of those older romaine types of lettuce. Currently, it's grown in the Yuma area for spring mixes but rarely harvested as heads.
• It is an heirloom variety of vegetable that still has commercial use today.
• Some people try to define “heirloom” by age, such as saying that any plant that originated before 1951 — after which hybridization became popular — is an heirloom. However, the most widely accepted definition of what constitutes an heirloom is that it is open pollinated and was grown in an earlier era. Some heirlooms are hundreds of years old, and others originated around the turn of the 20th century.
• Cimarron lettuce is an heirloom from the 1700s. It also is called Little Leprechaun.
• Cimarron lettuce is a beautiful deep red romaine with a creamy yellow-bronze center. The plant can grow to 10 to 12 inches tall.
• The lettuce has a tender texture and great flavor and is great picked as baby lettuce.
• The large, sturdy plants are both cold and heat hardy and virtually impervious to bolting, making it excellent for home gardeners.
• Lettuce, a member of the sunflower family, is one of the oldest known vegetables and is believed to be native to the Mediterranean area. It probably originated from one of the wild lettuce types, of which there are more than 100 varieties.
• Lettuce graced the tables of Persian kings, Roman senators and medieval lords. It has been food for peasant and noble alike for hundreds of years.
• In certain periods of the year, Yuma-grown lettuce represents about 90 percent of the U.S. winter lettuce production, averaging more than 45,000 planted acres per year.
• In the United States, lettuce ranks second only to potatoes as the most popular vegetable. Average U.S. consumption is 30 pounds of lettuce per person per year.
• Lettuce production occurs year-round throughout the United States. The majority of production from April through October occurs in the Salinas Valley of California, while production from November through March occurs in Yuma and parts of the Imperial Valley. Huron, Calif., is responsible for much of the production during the transitional periods between the Arizona and California production seasons.
• The biggest share of U.S. lettuce exports are shipped to Canada and Mexico.
• California produces nearly 70 percent of U.S. lettuce, while Arizona, primarily Yuma County, produces 30 percent.
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.