I’m taking a break from blogging about dog training, neuroplasticity, and behaviorism to cross-post this article on the critical issue of lettuce rescue and rehabilitation, which is the work of the nonprofit group, No Salad Left Behind.
No Salad Left Behind is a rescue and sanctuary for lettuces that have been attacked — through no fault of their own — by roving gangs of predatory herbivores or even lone squirrel vigilantes. NSLB is located in a secret location in southern New England, home to a struggling effort to protect lettuces from the Bun-Bun Gang.
“We are considering taking in arugula and kale eventually, if we can raise the green,” said Heda Romaine, director of the sanctuary. “For now, we’ve decided to focus on tender, sweet lettuces because they are the most at risk. It’s hard because not everyone appreciates or is even aware of the problem.”
Here in rural New England, even in seemingly peaceful quiet towns, lettuce attacks are all too common. Every spring, a new gardener or farmer may face empty beds.
“Three days ago, my lettuce was doing great,” says Sharon Wachsler, a new member of NSLB. “Then, yesterday I went out to plant some basil, and where my lettuce used to be, it was just empty. It was just dirt. At first I didn’t even see the little pieces of stem where the lettuce used to be.”
Wachsler takes us on a tour of her “garden” and shows the place where once had thrived a young, vibrant community of red romaine.
“This is the only lettuce that survived unscathed,” Wachsler says. “I think it was because it was not near all the other lettuce. But how long will it survive if the rabbit or squirrel should come back?”
“These weren’t bad seeds,” stresses Wachsler, gesturing to the desolate earth where once had stood her hopes for a decent crop. “They were organic, from the town’s seed saving library. I had great hopes for them passing on their seeds to the next generation of the library, but now, who knows?”
Who knows, indeed. Eight of Wachsler’s lettuces have been moved to the NSLB sanctuary. There, in large pots behind a chain link fence, Wachsler hopes the little roots and nubs of stems — cut down by a pair of cruel incisors in the prime of their youth — will eventually make a recovery. Hopes are not high.
“I used to have pet rabbits,” says Wachsler, ruefully. “They can squeeze through really small spaces. Their bodies are like Jell-O. If they want to get to the lettuce, they’re going to get to it.
“I’ve just started feeding my dog dehydrated rabbit,” Wachsler adds. “Do you think this could be retribution?”
When asked what the chances are for the new transplants, Ms. Romaine hedges. “These plants have been through an ordeal. After having all their leaves eaten, they’ve been uprooted from the only soil they knew and brought to these isolated pots in a gated community. They’re traumatized. We’re just playing a waiting game.”
While most in the community support the efforts of NSLB, the group’s name has stirred up some controversy.
“It’s offensive,” says Isa Bergh. “Lettuce is not just for salad. It has a lot of other possibilities. You can use it as a garnish, or in a sandwich, or in Caesar salad, or . . . Oh wait, that’s a salad. Um, I mean Waldorf sa– . . . well, you can use it for . . . OK, that’s not the point!” Bergh says. “Lettuce is not just for people to eat! It wants to soak up the sun, to flower, to bear seeds, just like any other plant.”
“This kind of attitude that lettuce is just, you know, ‘rabbit food’ is what makes it vulnerable to these kinds of attacks!” Insists Bergh, though critics point out that rabbits have never paid much attention to what people post on blogs. “At least animals can run or fight if someone is trying to eat them, but plants are defenseless,” says Bergh, who eats neither plants or animals, surviving on steam — nicknamed “the Hot Air Diet.”
“I don’t want to get into the politics,” Romaine deflects the question. “We’re here for the lettuces. That’s our position.”
The herbivorous assailant or assailants is still at large. While it’s possible a squirrel or chipmunk is behind the midnight snack-attack, NSLB says they suspect Fuzzy Lapin, who has been known to steal into gardens at night and eat tender young greens. Wachsler confirmed that she has seen “a suspicious rabbit” in her yard and supplied us with the photograph below.
“I used to think the rabbits were cute!” Wachsler groans. “I even wrote a humorous blog post about this rabbit a few years ago. I’ll never do anything like that again!”