With greenhouses providing much of the warmth for germination and growth of lettuce seedlings in the Winter season, lettuce plants really don’t need much time in the ground in growing plots before being ready to harvest. Growing conditions are suitable for multiple, staggered crops of lettuce almost year round in Japan. All for except the peak Summer periods.
We mentioned the planting out process of lettuce in an earlier post, but in Ibaraki Prefecture, the last week or two has already seen the commencement of harvesting activity for some of that Winter grown lettuce crop. Ibaraki Prefecture is an area well known for contributing to a significant portion of Japan’s annual 530,000 tonne production quota. The Ibaraki farming regions help supply the lettuce market demands of many cities within and surrounding the prefecture, including Tokyo.
At this time of year, frost tunnels cover vast areas of the rural landscape and house lettuce crops at varying stages of maturity. The tunnels are rolled up at the sides to allow direct sunlight to drench the growing plants when weather conditions are sunny. However, it is essential that the tunnels can still be closed to protect the the lettuce when the weather again turns bitter. The ripping winds of late Winter can cause serious wind burn and physical damage to any greenery left exposed to the extremely dry air.
With the earliest planted Winter lettuce now ready for harvest, workers venture between the rows and cut the crisp lettuce away from the ground at the stalk. Outer mature leaves are then pealed away to expose a dense, quality lettuce that is packaged in boxes ready for transport.
To aid harvest efficiency, simple, but specially designed trolleys are often used to wheel multiple produce boxes away from the picking area at any one time. The trolleys are designed to span over the top of the plastic growing tunnels while the wheels run between rows. Lettuce boxes are wheeled away to mini-trucks that wait for loading on the sides of the growing plots.
The loads of lettuce are then transported to the nearby local wholesale market for daily auction.
Following harvest, many dual use lettuce growing plots will be rotated in role for the Summer growing season. The now dry plots will be tilled and prepared for flooding with fresh water, as they get used for growing rice throughout the warmer part of the year.