lettuces

as i mentioned before, my husband and i love our greens and try to have a green salad nearly every night with dinner.  we  love to use greens that are unique and different from your average head of romaine found in every grocery store.  iceberg has no place whatsoever on our table. never has, never will.  because the gourmet, heirloom greens are so expensive we have made it our goal to try and grow the majority of what goes into our salad bowl. we’re getting there.

lettuce was one of the first things i cut my gardening teeth on.  the first time i grew it, i knew nothing of cool season vs. warm season plants and when the seeds should be sown.  being the novice that i was, i planted the seeds as soon as the weather was warm.  that first year, i did have a few heads,  but they bolted quickly and the taste turned bitter before we really had a chance to enjoy them.

the second time i tried it, i used a packet of mesclun that had been given to me.  this time i knew a little more about cool season vegetables, and had learned that lettuce will germinate much better in a cool soil.  i also had learned that when the seed packet says the seeds are to be kept moist until germination, it means they are to be kept moist until germination.  i misted them well until i saw the lovely green haze of sprouts emerge and nursed them along through the fall.  when winter came, i housed them under a cloche, protecting them from the frost, and on valentine’s day, we had a lovely mesclun salad with a homemade vinaigrette.  it was just time then to start the batch for spring, and i was hooked on growing greens.  one of our long-term goals is to have a cold frame so that we can grow a larger quantity through the winter.  as i said before, we’re getting there.

lettuces, like peas, are cold weather vegetables; and the planting season here is the same – from february 15 – march 10.  at the time i am writing this, i have two 4’x4′ squares yet to plant thanks to the wet weather we’ve had this past winter.   i am holding my breath, hoping that there will still be time to harvest some decent greens before the summer heat sets in.  the wonderful thing about lettuce though is that it can still be enjoyed before it reaches its full maturity –  baby greens are such a novelty.

lettuce seeds can be soaked overnight if  you wish.  i have done this before, using a small glass custard dish.  shake out the desired amount (remembering to keep it small) and cover with a little bit of water.  the next morning, drain the water and sow the seeds in your prepared garden bed.  i prefer just to use the seeds dry, straight from the packet as soaking causes them to stick together and makes them somewhat unmanageable.  my suggestion would be to try both and see what works best for you.  some suppliers also offer seed tapes: the seeds are attached to a strip of tape and already spaced accordingly.  you simply cut off the desired length and bury in your bed.  i made my own last year, and found that while they were convenient, it took much longer for them to come up.  this year i vetoed the idea in favor of the old fashioned way.

lettuce seeds are tiny, and are not to be covered with much soil at all.  using your finger, a trowel, or a hand held cultivator, rake a tiny ridge in the soil the length of your lettuce bed.  it should only be about 1/4″ deep or so.  sow the seeds in one of two ways: 1. shake them out of the packet into the ridge, or 2. drop two or three at the properly spaced intervals.  if you shake them out of the packet  you will need to go back later on and thin them out.  i personally don’t have the time to do this, so i space them when i plant them.  dropping in two or three at a time will ensure that at least one of them will sprout.  if they all sprout, pinch back the extras, leaving one healthy little plant.

ya’ll still with me?

once the seeds are in the dirt, very gently cover with a shallow layer of soil, no more than 1/2″ and pat it down with your hand.  using your garden hose, or watering can, moisten the soil with a fine mist.  you will need to keep the soil moist until the little sprouts start to emerge so check on them every day. water gently, so as not to dislodge your seeds.

germination time depends on the weather conditions and on the variety of lettuce.  usually within two weeks the seeds will start to come up.  i put mine in a week ago, and am still waiting to see sprouts.  once the sprouts emerge, you won’t need to water every day, just make sure the soil is kept consistently moist.  fertilize every three to four weeks using either the fish emulsion fertilizer, or another basic garden fertilizer of your choice.

harvest when the leaves get to the desired size.  you can either harvest the whole head, or you can harvest the outside leaves and allow the center to keep growing.  it’s entirely up to  you.  stay tuned later on in the season for some of our favorite vinaigrette recipes.

following are some of my favorite varieties.  some are grown for their flavor, some are grown for their shape, some for their texture, and some for their color.

from thompson and morgan’s taste of italy collection:

lettuce rossa a foglia riccia da taglio – a red leaf variety with a simple flavor and beautiful color.  very easy to grow.

rucola coltivata (aka arugula) – marco’s favorite.  has a sharp, bitter taste.  can be used alone or in combination with a variety of other greens.  grows quickly and will tolerate the heat a little longer.

from burpee:

salad bowl – very simple to grow and very similar to the plain vanilla green leaf lettuce you’ll find at the store. i’m not sure why the link wouldn’t work  here -sorry.

black seeded simpson – an heirloom lettuce with a beautiful shape.

buttercrunch – butter lettuces are some of my favorites. easy to grow, and again a beautifully shaped head.

from seed saver’s exchange:

amish deer tongue – an absolutely gorgeous shaped head with pointed leaves.  slightly sharp taste. one of my favorites.

forellenschluss – another favorite of mine.  similar to butter lettuce with red flecked leaves.  beautiful.

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2 Comments to “lettuces”

  1. I am finally getting to start a garden since we finally own our own home! (Gardening is not new to me – I just haven’t had the opportunity to do it for about 10 years!) It is a little late to plant lettuces here, but since we had such a cold winter, I’m going to try anyway! I have Black Seeded Simpson, and a “gourmet” mix (can’t remember the name). I went ahead and bought tomato plants, since I didn’t get started early enough.
    Of course, I have tons of herbs going in, and some cutting flowers (cosmos, zinnias, cornflowers, etc.)
    I will come back later and tell you what else I have, since I have already forgotten!!

  2. sarah, last year burpee seeds had a warm weather mix for lettuces. it lasted here till about mid june. i’m still working on cutting flowers. i have some zinnias started but no place yet to put them.

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