Organic Gardening Blogs

Chosen as one of the Top 30 Organic Gardening Blogs – March 2018

Want More Yield from Potatoes?

I’ve covered Green Sprouting as a way to increase potato yields. But if you’re still not satisfied with your yield, knowledge of how different varieties grow and produce could make a difference.

Variety Classification

Varieties are classified as early, mid-season and late growers. But sources don’t always agree on variety classification. Days from planting to harvest might be more useful in choosing which variety to grow.

Days from Planting To Harvest

In general early varieties can be harvested within 60 to 90 days after planting. Those are the ones that delight us with the first new potatoes of the season. And their foliage is usually the first to die back. (Yukon Gold, Chieftain, and Norland are 3 of my early producing varieties. In my garden they produce in about 70 days.)

Late season varieties are those that continue growing for 90 to 120 days.

These are the ones I bring in during late fall for winter eating. I don’t have good conditions for storing potatoes, but I can usually keep late season varieties like Butte, Canela Russet, Red Pontiac and Kennebec looking fresh and perfect for two, sometimes three months.

You’ll find a lot of cross-overs in lists of midseason potatoes. Kennebec and Red Pontiac are listed as midseason by some sources and late season by others. Chieftain is sometimes listed as early; sometimes  midseason.

If I wanted to pick a midseason variety, I’d go with a variety that produced in 75 to 90 days from planting.

Different Growth Characteristics – Determinate and Indeterminate

Early varieties grow differently than late varieties.

Early varieties are considered determinates. For potatoes that means they grow in a layer, just above where the seed was planted. They’re finished after they produce that layer of spuds.

Late varieties are considered indeterminate and produce more. Potatoes are grown in multiple layers over a longer growing period.

Fingerlings might be the exception as I’ve read they’re determinate no matter how many days it takes them to mature. Wish I had known that many years ago when I grew fingerlings. Never felt their harvest was worth the garden space.

Keeping it Simple

You can find all kinds of conflicting information on how to grow determinate and indeterminate potatoes. But the basic information you need to be successful, I’ve given you here.

I like to keep things simple and easy.

All my potatoes ( determinate and indeterminate) are planted 6 to 8 inches down. I cover with a thick layer of straw.

When they start growing I add more straw.

As potato vines start to spread apart and lay down, I look for exposed potatoes and cover them with more straw. (Otherwise they’ll turn green from the light)

Final Thoughts

The variety of potato you choose can make a big difference in your yield. So can Green Sprouting.

But as always, your success with any vegetable will depend mainly on your soil.


Suggested Reading:

Potatoes – Green Sprouting – Advice from A Leading US Grower

Growing Potatoes – It’s Hard to Mess Up


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3 Tips – Potatoes, Lettuce, Tomato Hornworm and a personal note

Yes, I’m still in the kitchen floor, but getting better everyday. As you may have already imagined, my heart is out in the garden.

A reader wrote to me not long ago and said that the Secrets to Seed Starting Success PDF was filled with such “common sense” suggestions that she couldn’t believe she’d not already thought of them.

If we live and garden long enough most of these simple little tips will occur to us sooner or later. But the sooner we have them in our arsenal of tools for success, the easier things get.

Here are 3 tips to add to your list if you don’t already know them:

Potatoes – A Harvest Tip

If soil is heavy, has poor drainage, or is not yet improved,  potatoes left in the water logged ground can rot.

But if you have good drainage and your soil is moist during heavy rains but not soggy, your potatoes should be fine even left in the ground long after they’re finished.

So if you have reasons you don’t want to harvest all your potatoes at one time, you don’t have to.

I usually harvest enough for a few meals each time I harvest, beginning in May or June through our first frost long about November. They do well in the driest of summers and even during unusual torrential ongoing rains.

As long as you have potatoes covered well with mulch (straw, pine, leaves, etc) so they won’t be exposed to sunlight and turn green, they’ll keep nicely in the ground until the first frost.

Once exposed to freezing temperatures (or frost) they change composition and don’t taste as good.

Some varieties produce only at the level just above where they’re planted. A few of the tubers produced will show above ground when the vines start to die back.  Seeing that, I bring in straw and cover them. That fixes that.

Lettuce – Want It Well into The Heat of Summer?

If you love lettuce like I do, you’ll want it fresh from the garden as long as possible. And you can have it, provided you don’t stop planting with just one or two plantings in the spring.

My winter lettuces produce bountifully in late winter and early spring. This gives me plenty of time to start seed and transplant lettuce for the summer months.

From April to the first of June, I planted 4 times. Each planting was about 20 days apart.

Here it is mid-July. We’ve had many hot and humid days in the 90s.

The last two plantings (Sierra Batavia and Aerostar) are still producing crisp and delicious lettuce. The first two spring plantings are setting seed. (As you know I can’t walk yet, but Lisa gives me the scoop on what’s happening in the garden each day.)


These pests blend so nicely with tomato foliage they can be hard to find even when you’re looking right at them.

If you see damage (stems totally stripped of leaves) and still can’t see the worm, cut the damaged stems away. Come back later with a fresh eye and you’ll probably see it.

And just a reminder: If you see one colonized with the cocoons of the Braconid Wasp — leave him be. He’s paralyzed already and won’t do anymore harm. The young wasp will emerge and help you keep these pests in check in the future.

Final Thoughts of a Personal Nature

I want to thank you for the loving comments left to my post telling about my most recent challenge.  They were so encouraging to me.

I’m almost finished answering each message individually via email.  So, if you haven’t received a personal email from me, you will soon.

As I’ve told you many times, you are the most wonderful friends and readers in the world and there are none finer.   Thank you for your encouragement and caring.  I’m so grateful for having you in my life.

All my best and warmest wishes,



Related Posts:

Discrepancies in IDs – Hornworms – eggs or cocoons.

Lettuce Making Sure You Have Enough for Fall, Winter and Next Spring


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Meeting Another Challenge

Change, heartbreak, hardship and other adversities can enable us to grow and become greater than we are. But they’re seldom welcomed with open arms.

If you’re like me it’ll take time and a lot of mental effort to turn those conditions into something that adds value rather than ruination to life.

I’ve fallen far short of my goals in the past four years. Bill being sick, his death, and dealing with ongoing grief have taken their toll.

Nonetheless my goals remain fixed. And one that is primary is to find ways to help you even more in your garden and your life.

It may be a longer journey than I anticipated, so I hope you will be patient and stay on the path with me until the very end.

Most Recent Challenge

I’m writing this post from my kitchen floor where I’ve been for the past two weeks after taking a bad fall by my garden.

After I fell I dragged myself across the yard to the drive way. My new neighbor found a thin piece of ply wood. As I held on she dragged me the rest of the way across the drive and the cement walk to my back steps. We spent the entire night outside until I could decide how I wanted to proceed.

I’d always wanted to spend the night under the stars, just not under those conditions. Nonetheless, the night was lovely and it is a night neither of us will ever forget.

At 6:30 AM I was moved into the house to my kitchen floor.

A Debt That Can Never Be Repaid

I called a friend to let her know I’d fallen. Although I didn’t ask or anticipate her coming over, she arrived shortly after with all kinds of healing herbs and tonics and food that she knew I might eat.

The next day my neighbor’s husband custom built a small frame around me to keep me in one place.

My neighbor comes every morning to give me the nutrients I need to speed healing and anything else that I need to get through the day. She returns last thing in the evening for a final check.

In addition to fixing the one meal that I eat each day, a friend harvested my onion crop, saving it from ruin. The list of what she’s done is far too long for this post.

I owe a great debt to these two women and their husbands for helping me at a time I needed it the most. It would be impossible to repay.

Computer is Difficult

I’ve only be able to use the computer for about three days. Still difficult lying almost flat on my back, being only slightly raised.

I’m gaining more movement everyday and healing nicely. Pain free about 98% of the time.

Walking Towards the Desired Outcome

As at any time in our lives the future is not sure. But as Bill and I have always done, I will continue to “walk” in the direction of the outcome I want.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for taking time to read this. I wanted you to know that you are always in my thoughts. If you need help, please feel free to email me as always.


Bagged Manure – Is it Organic?

I’m helping a reader, Becky, from South Carolina with some problems she’s having getting plants to grow and flourish in her “enclosed” raised beds.

I feel confident that one of her problems is experienced by many gardeners who want to be organic.

Marketing today can easily deceive us into buying products that may give indication they’re for use in organic gardens, but they’re not.

Becky uses the brand Black Kow® “composted cow manure”. But there are probably many more brands that use the same approach to sell their products for use in organic gardens.

Is It Suitable For Use in Organic Gardens?

If you go to a brand’s website or look at their product bag and don’t see the USDA/organic (certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture) label anywhere, it’s not suitable for use in organic gardens.

And although that label is decreasing in its legitimacy due to pressure by big corporations – it’s the best national label we have to go by right now for packaged products. We have to educate ourselves to be sure we get what we think we’re getting.

The Word organic

The definition for the word “organic” is: relating to or derived from living matter.

Various companies legally use the word organic, which may imply to the unknowing reader, that the product is organic (meaning for use in organic gardens) when it’s not.

You’ll see wording such as:

  • all-natural organic way to improve native soils
  • (brand name) is an organic soil amendment

Also, the things accomplished by adding organic materials to the soil (such as helps moisture holding capacity, etc.) may be touted as something that comes as a result of using their product. (And that may or may not be true.)

These bagged manures (that are not USDA certified organic) in all probability come from feedlot operations, where it is common to have a 1000 or more animals confined. These are the only places they can get the volume of manure they need to sell nationwide.

In some states the confined feedlot operations have even caused problems with property devaluation because of the smell that lingers in the air for miles from these huge mountains of manure that for the most part are too much to get rid of.  There have even been human health issues from living too close to these feedlot areas.

In addition, antibiotics that are given to cattle conventionally raised, end up in the manure.  They’re not always rendered harmless by composting.

The Way Cattle Were Raised for Thousands of Years

For thousands of years cattle were raised on their mother’s milk. As they aged they’d graze most of the year and then winter on hay.

The Unthinkable

Then the unthinkable happened. Cattlemen found that adding protein to feed would fatten out the cattle more quickly. Feeding the cattle rendered animal parts (see below) was promoted as the new modern way.

Rendered animal parts: feathers, poultry feces, cow blood, parts of pigs, horses, fish, cattle and other animal parts not fit for humans.

It’s amazing to me that cannibalizing cattle, who are constructed perfectly for eating plants, would be considered “ok” by any sane person.

A Smack on the Hand After The Mad Cow Outbreak

After the outbreak of mad cow disease some time back, the government supposedly banned some of this perversion in order to “protect” the public from mad cow disease. But from everything I’ve been able to find, much of it is still considered “ok”.

Even after composting, I would not want to use manure from any of these conventionally raised animals. And  I definitely would not want to eat any part of these cannibalized animals.

Find Good Manure if You Can

If you can find manure that you know is good AND know how to use it – it’ll be fine for your organic garden.

Do You Need Manure for Success?

If you can’t, it’s really not a problem. You don’t have to use manure to be successful in your garden.
I’ve addressed that in many posts.

Fall leaves are one of the finest amendments you’ll ever find for your organic garden.

Final Thoughts

All of us can be fooled by today’s marketing. It takes some thought and a bit of knowledge to make sure you’re getting what you want.


Related Posts – Suggested Reading:

Information to think on before you purchase food, hydroponics, afo/cafo meats, vitamins and grains for you animals that you might think is organic.

Manures – Good or Bad for the Organic Garden?

Soil Fertility – Without Manure or Compost


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Making a Difference with Your Kids and A Reader’s Story

I wrote a post in January of 2011 that is even more relevant today than it was then, since it tells of how the basics of human existence have escaped most in our society. (And I don’t think “most” is an exaggeration.)

The majority seem clueless about where food comes from and don’t really see a need to know.

The very sustenance of life (our food) has been entrusted by most to that “unseen” someone. And the belief that “they (whoever they might be) would not sell it if it were bad for you” is very widespread.

This lack of education in the basics has been going on for decades and as you might imagine, it’s not uncommon for kids to know nothing about gardening or growing food.

Who Makes the Most Difference?

Bill and I worked with and loved more than 50 kids over a 30 year period. Those kids now range in ages from 20 to 50! Unbelievable!

In spite of the love, time spent, and our best efforts we were able to influence only for that short time. Hopefully, they still carry with them some of what we said and did that will make a positive difference as they go through life.

But the bottom line is: parents have the most influence. And that’s just the way it is.

I’d guess that grandparents are next in line after parents and then aunts and uncles.

Including your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. in the processes of growing food and fixing food is the kind of teaching that will enable them to make better choices as adults.

Jack’s Story Proves the Point

A Teacher’s 1/2 Hour Lesson on Gardening from a 6 Year Old

Through the years, Bill and I enjoyed many wonderful stories and pictures from friend and reader, Jack, telling various stories about his granddaughters. Some I’ve shared with you. Long time readers will recall the delightful 24 second video of then 18 month old, Ellie, checking over the broccoli in Jack’s garden. A priceless video!

Ellie, now about 6 years old, and her younger sister (2 years old) spend as much time as possible with Jack. Both girls are right at home in Grandpop ’s garden.

Recently Jack shared another great Ellie-story.

He wrote:

“At school, as her class was going out for morning recess, her teacher asked for 2 volunteers to plant some flowers in raised beds along the sidewalk to the front door. Of course Ellie stuck her hand up.

They took the plants out and as the teacher was giving instructions how to plant them Ellie listened, then advised the teacher that they first needed to get all of the weeds out first. (He wasn’t going to bother).

As they were getting ready to plant she explained how she and Grandpop plant things and told him of ALL of the different vegetables and fruits I grow here.

She went on to explain that the weeds, if left, would fight for the nutrients in the ground and the plants might not do so good because they wouldn’t get as much energy from the soil.

She asked him how big the plants would get when they were full grown, but he didn’t know so she gave him the spacing speech, explaining that they need space to grow right and couldn’t be planted too close together.

She had his full attention and was on a roll from there when she figured he didn’t have a clue what he was doing…..

And (went on to explain) how I never ever use chemicals, how I mulch the top of the soil with shredded leaves to keep the soil from drying out and to feed the worms etc…

The teacher was so impressed he sent a note home to her parents explaining how knowledgeable she is and about his 1/2 hour lesson on gardening😁😁😁

Does my heart good to see that she has such a grasp on how real food is grown at such a young age. She knows more as a kindergartner than I did when I was 50 years old when I first started learning how to garden organically!”

Final Thoughts

Thanks to Jack for letting me share such a delightful and encouraging story!

If you have a great story about engaging your kids in the garden, please share it with us.


Related Posts:

The Basic Knowledge of Feeding Yourself Well

Gardening with Kids – Workin’ Over the Brocolli

Consider Variables When Determining Spacing Between Plants

Information to Think on Before You Purchase Food, Hydroponics, Afocafo Meats, Vitamins and Grain for Your Animals You Might Think is Organic


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Potato Talk – Varieties/Potato Beetles/Help from Wasps

Potatoes are in more than a dozen spots throughout my garden. The plants are beautiful and looking at them is enjoyable as I check everything each day.

I grow several varieties: Chieftan, Norland, Butte, Yukon Gold, Rose Gold, Kennebec and another russet whose name has been long forgotten.

When Bill was alive more potatoes were needed. Now it’s no longer necessary for me to buy seed potatoes. But I still want (and have) an abundance for eating fresh and also making soup. (For more on how I grow potatoes you might want to check out this post.)

Potato Beetles

Do any of you remember being driven crazy by potatoes beetles? I certainly do. Having to kill hundreds of larvae and/or adult beetles each day is not a fun task.

Or maybe that’s your situation right now. Be encouraged by the fact that as you continue to improve your garden AND if you take a proactive approach, potato beetles will decrease over time and become “comfortably controllable”.

Things in my garden have improved to the point where I have very few potatoes beetles. Found only two  adults in mid May. Found several larvae each day for the past few days. A very insignificant amount considering the number of plants I have all around the garden.

Helping Me with “Search and Destroy”

I see a variety of wasps checking the potato plants each day, although their main focus this year seems to be on my broccoli and cabbage. (Yeh!)

It’s fascinating to stop and watch these wasp take away cabbage worms and/or potato beetle larvae. They take them back to their nest and feed them to the wasp larvae.

Of the many varieties of wasps in the garden, the ones I’m most familiar with are the ones that commonly build their nest under eaves or between my storm window and regular window in the bathroom upstairs. (Not convenient for me at all.)

Will they Sting?

For almost 40 years, hundreds of bees and wasps have patrolled my garden with me.  I’ve brushed against them as I move through the plants. My hands and arms are right next to them on a daily basis.

I’ve never been stung inside the garden. Although I did back into the tiniest bee I’ve ever seen many years ago. That was enough to bring a loud “Ouch!” and the kids that were there at the time thought it was hilarious.

Last year, in pulling up a dead lavender plant in a border that had not had timely attention, what a surprise to have a dozen wasps let me know that I was invading nest-territory. I was stung on the face twice, but it was nothing compared to what they’re capable of. I’d like to think they knew it was me. 🙂 It certainly seemed that way.

The Biggest Mistake Made With “Pest” Insects

I think probably about the biggest mistake gardeners can make with “pest” insects is to ignore them.
If you’re proactive and address the problem when you first notice it and are diligent about “search and destroy” you can keep them under control.

(I made the mistake of ignoring harlequin beetles and the various cabbage worms back in 2012. I swore off growing brassicas for a while after that. Full story here.)

Even though I have next to no problem with potato beetles, I pay attention to the plants as I pass each day — or at least every other day. A few larvae gone unattended can turn into a much greater number within a month.

Do the math:
Each female potato beetle can lay up to 350 eggs over 3 to 5 weeks. Eggs begin to hatch about two weeks or sooner. Larvae can complete development in as little as 10 days; then drop from the plant, burrow into soil and pupate and emerge as an adult in 5 to 10 days.

Handpicking as a Control

As unpleasant a task as handpicking is, it might be the best method of control.  Before deciding that you have too many potatoes for hand control, you might want to review what Jim Gerritsen, one of the foremost potato growers in the United States, had to say about it.

Final Thoughts

Potatoes in bloom.

Some of the early varieties are in bloom. That means new potatoes on my menu soon!

If you’re not growing potatoes, I hope you’ll consider it for next year.  You’ve never really tasted potatoes until you grow your own in great garden soil. Nothing can compare.


Related Posts:

Organic Pest Control – Is It Just About the Soil?

Oil Seed Radish/Brassicas/ And A Bug Story

Potatoes/ Green Sprouting / Advice from A Leading U.S. Grower

Growing Potatoes – Is the Natural Way the Best?

Potato Beetles – Organic Pest Control – Programmed Responses

Growing Potatoes – It’s Hard to Mess Up


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Consider Variables When Determining Spacing Between Plants

One of the things that you don’t see talked about much is the variables involved in determining how much distance you need between your vegetable plants.

I think it’s a safe bet to say that seed packs give spacing based on what’s done (or necessary) in conventional gardening.

Those of us who work with nature have a few more things to consider before we make that final decision.

While it’s true that plants need space to grow, they might not need as much space as you think under the right conditions.

It the soil has been properly loosened to a depth of about 2 feet and the soil life has been provided with compost or other organic materials to feed on, your garden can easily thrive with intensive (closer) planting.

Deeply prepared soil allows roots to go down rather than having to spread out to the side where neighboring plants reside.

And the great news is — deep preparation need only be done once: when you establish your permanent beds. Soil compaction won’t be an issue anymore since you’ll walk on the permanent pathways rather than the beds. And covering the soil will prevent compaction from rain and keep the soil workable.

The result is not only space saving, but time saving.

Take tomatoes for example. The general recommendation for indeterminate tomatoes is 3 to 4 feet apart. I plant them about 1 to 1 1/2 feet apart.

If you think your soil is not quite ready to support close planting, but almost, lay down a layer of compost over the bed before you plant.

Keep in mind as you experiment with intensive planting that some seedlings will be smaller than others and end up not growing as large. If you’ve started enough seed you can just plant the biggest and strongest. If not, go ahead and plant them all if you want, but just keep in mind that there’s always the stronger and the weaker. That’s the seed, not your soil.

If you already have the 3 keys working in your garden, you might want to give closer planting a try.

Here are some pictures from my May garden.

Broccoli plants


New spring lettuces on May 15th. Two weeks later (today) and these plants are huge! More than doubled in that short time in spite of my harvesting daily.


Young cabbages


Young cabbage plants. Three rows show in this picture. To the left are peas and a stray potato. The bed to the right is potatoes.  The pink with the cabbage is oenothera. The little white flower at the top with the cabbage is cilantro blooming.


Related Posts:

A Read Writes: Everyone is Amazed at my Garden

3 Books that Can Change Your Garden, Your Health, and The Way You Look at Life


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Assumptions/Watering/Onions and Most other Vegetables/3 keys

Since I first started in 2010, one of the things that I’ve found to be strong within gardeners is the urge to water.

The urge is so strong that unless someone literally has no way of watering (other than maybe hauling an occasional watering can to a plant – like my situation) they never really know what the plants will or can do.

In this age of marketing, we’ve been programmed to think we have to water in order to garden.

And it’s easy to make wrong assumptions based on what you see taking place, but not really knowing all the variables involved.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

A friend who lives about a mile from me visited yesterday. We walked through the garden and talked about how the almanac called for more dry weather in this area.

A few days ago, even though she uses mulch, my friend felt it necessary to water her onions and some other vegetables in the garden. They really perked up and seemed to “grow” a bit over night. Of course she attributed that to the watering.

As we continued our conversation, it turns out that the same time her onions perked up overnight, was exactly the same time mine perked up and also seemed to grow some. Except mine were not watered. (I’ve not watered onions EVER in the almost 40 years I’ve been growing them.)

Nothing Wrong with Watering especially if –

  • you have good water,
  • the means to water at ground level and water deeply,
  • and water only when needed.

The “when needed” part is probably where most gardeners miss the mark.

If you’re gardening with nature and using the 3 keys (deep soil preparation, adding organic matter/materials, covering the soil) in almost all cases it will be very seldom, if ever, that you need to water.

I’m living proof that’s true. But there’s plenty of documented proof as well.

Here are a few facts that I covered in a previous post:

  • Working with nature (using the 3 keys) will allow you to garden with 67% to 88% LESS water.
  • Only 20 inches of rain per year can produce the “best yields in the world” when working with nature.
  • Soil that has been deeply prepared will have the capacity to hold 25% of its volume in water. For example: 24 inches of deeply prepared soil can hold 6 inches of water.
  • Covering your soil (shading your soil) reduces evaporation by 13 to 63%.
  • Once your soil is improved to have the right nutrients, plants transpire (give off) 10 to 75% LESS water.
  • Having only 2% organic matter will reduce the water needs of plants by 75%!

For example: if the soil has 1/2% organic matter a plant may use 200 gallons of water. At 1% organic matter it would need 150 gallons of water. But at 2% organic matter the plant would need about 50 gallons, which is 75% less than the 200 gallons.

Final Thought

If we’re working in harmony with nature,  the water needed to grow a pound of food is reduced to about 3% of what is normally required (in conventional gardening/farming). That being the case, the vast majority would never really need to water.


Suggested Reading:

3 Keys to Successful Gardening – More Proof They Work

Needs One Inch of Rain a Week. Oh Yeah?

Watering. It’s Overrated.


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Garden Lettuce – Read This if You Hate It, Love It and/or Want Superior Seed

About everything you can think of tastes better when you grow it yourself;  especially from an organic garden that works with nature . The only exception I can think of is if you grow varieties that have little or no taste.

Grow the Right Variety

Sometime back a reader told me her husband didn’t like garden lettuce. He preferred store bought. I’d almost be willing to bet it’s the variety that’s the problem there.

Here’s an example that comes to mind:

Black Seeded Simpson is a popular variety of lettuce. By popular I mean grown by many. I can almost bet that it got to be that way because it will endure in the garden when a lot of other varieties have run their course and are no more.

I’ve grown it for many years for that very reason. When I’m without all others, I can probably come up with a few leaves of Black Seeded Simpson if I’m desperate for lettuce.

But that’s just about the only way it gets into the salad bowl.

When prime varieties that are crisp and flavorful, like Sierra Batavia and Winter Density, are available I don’t even consider Black Seeded Simpson. It’s neither crisp nor flavorful. Enjoyable only when you’re a lettuce lover like me and have none of the greats to choose from.

Another example:

A visitor to my garden last July asked to sample my lettuces. He liked them all, but when he put a piece of Sierra Batavia in his mouth it brought a “wow!” reponse. He said it was the highest quality and best tasting lettuce he’d ever had.

Then he tasted Winter Density and it brought close to the same response. But he said if he had to choose one, he’d choose Sierra Batavia.

My visitor also sampled Black Seeded Simpson. No response. We moved on to the next.

Why Not Give It Another Try

If you “hate garden lettuce”, why not give it another try and grow the two favorites I mentioned. You might just change your mind about garden lettuce.

(And by the way, both are open pollinated which will be important if you want to save seed.)

Quality of Commercial Seed Seems to Be on The Decline

Several friends and/or readers have mentioned having problems with germination (and growth) of some of their purchased seed.

Over the past 3 years, that’s my experience as well.

Even though you might be able to get a replacement or your money back, you may have missed the window to plant by the time you realize the problem and contact the seller.

With everything that’s going on in the seed and food industry, this might just be the hand writing on the wall for what the future holds.

Culling Takes Away Some Profit from Commercial Growers

I would imagine that most farmers growing for the seed market would not find it profitable to cull out inferior plants from the field. Each added step takes time and money (for helpers) which takes away from profit.

In our own garden we have much more control and it’s easy to save just the largest and most robust plants to obtain the best seed.

Overall, Better Germination and Stronger Seedlings Result from Saving Your Own Seed

Last fall I planted several varieties including my favorite, Winter Denisty, for going into winter.

Commercial seed that I had on hand germinated much more slowly than saved seed from my garden.

When I shared some of the seedlings with a friend, she told me they were the strongest little lettuce seedlings she had seen. This confirmed what I’ve found to be true as well.

Once You Have an Open-pollinated Variety You Love – Your Next Step to Superior Seed Is Saving Seed

To get superior seed, you have to save your own.

Important Tip

If you’re new to seed saving and you read something that you consider complicated or confusing (either in the this article or somewhere else), don’t pay much attention to it at this time.

Just let a plant go to seed and save the seed. This will teach you more than you realize and eventually when you revisit the seemingly complicated information, you’ll understand it easily.

Even if you make mistakes, you can’t go too far wrong.

How Many Plants Do You Need?

Although one lettuce plant will produce an abundance of seed, it’s better to save seed from 3 plants to get the best lettuce in the long run.

Using at least 3 will give you genetic diversity. That’s what allows future seed/seedlings to slowly adapt to your climate and growing conditions.

And yes, it’s fine to mix the seed together. Nature will automatically sort for you when you plant again. Then when the time comes again to save seed and you choose the biggest and best plants, those are the ones nature has sorted for you as being the best.

If for some reason you only have one plant available for seed saving, proceed anyway. Never let imperfect conditions, or not being able to do everything, stop you from doing what you CAN do.

Fall planted lettuce in upper left of photo was planted in the fall and is setting seed in June.  The row on the right of the picture was spring planted. Four varieties.  Just starting to stalk.


Closer view of lettuce planted in the fall and wintered over. Stalked soonerthan lettuce planted in the spring.

Should You Save Seed from a Hybrid or an Open Pollinated Variety?

Seed that will remain true to that variety will come from an open pollinated variety of lettuce.

Understanding the Difference in a Hybrid and an Open Pollinated Plant


If you’ve gardened for a while, you already know that hybrid varieties of any vegetable have two different varieties as parents. In other words, the pollen of one variety is used to pollinate the other variety. Most hybrids on the market have been created with traits that are in the interest of “making a profit” rather than taste or other traits that you might desire from your plants.

When you plant seed produced by a hybrid, you can’t be sure of what you’ll get. In most cases the resulting plants will be less vigorous than the hybrid from which the seed was produced.

The good news is that — over a number of seasons — if you grow and save seed from resulting plants that you consider the best, you might come up with something very nice. AND it can be eventually stabilized by the resulting open-pollination over time.

Open Pollinated

In open pollinated plants there is a free (open) exchange of pollen among like plants. It’s not necessarily limited to one plant pollinating another; the flow of pollen is “open”. So it might be pollinated by more than one plant.

As long as only pollen from the same variety is shared, the seed resulting will produce true to its type (or variety) every year. If pollen from other varieties are shared, the result will be a hybrid.

Determining if a Lettuce is a Hybrid or Open Pollinated Variety.

Not all seed sources tell whether or not the lettuce is an open pollinated or hybrid variety. It can sometimes be difficult to get that information even when you Google it.

Occasionally,  I’ll go to the Baker Creek website to see if they carry the variety. If they do, you know it’s open pollinated (since they carry heirlooms only and all heirlooms are open-pollinated). On the downside, there are many great varieties they don’t carry.

If you can’t find the information on the variety of choice, I would assume it’s a hybrid.

Lettuce is Self-Pollinating. So What Does That Mean?

Those dozens of tiny little dandelion-like flowers contain both male and female components. Thus, lettuce is considered self pollinating.
It does not need pollen from another flower to pollinate.

The plant grown from the saved seed will render an almost identical plant.

Cross pollination by other varieties that are close by and blooming at the same time, is not as much of a worry with lettuce, but it is possible.

For example if you have two varieties that stalk up (grow a tall stalk and flower) and intertwine with each other, some of the seed will more than likely cross pollinate.

If this happens some of the seed from each plant may not grow true to type.

Is Cross Pollinating Worth the Worry? And If It Is, Here’s What to Do

Most sources recommend keeping varieties at least 25 feet apart to be sure they don’t cross pollinate.

That would not be practical in my garden. When I plant lettuce I plant 2 to 4 varieties in the same bed or at least within 5 feet of each other.

My seed always seems to produce true to the variety grown in spite of that.
If a few seeds (of the many I saved from one plant) happened to have been “hybrids” (a result of cross pollination), I would more than likely be able to see the difference as the plants of the next generation matured.  I would cull out those plants and not allow them to seed.

How to Know When Seed is Ready

When temperatures start to rise, lettuce starts to bolt. It’ll send up a seed stalk that will produce dozens of tiny little dandelion like flowers.

Each plant seems to have it’s own time schedule maturing. So you’ll have plants stalking, producing flowers, and setting seed at different times over a period of several weeks.

As this happens, cull out the shorter and less robust plants. Allow the biggest and the best to seed.

Be sure to mark the variety of the seeding plant. Once lettuce matures to the point of flowering and setting seed, much of it looks identical.

After the flowers bloom, it can take 2 to 4 weeks for the seed to be produced.
When I see a lot of the flower heads turning “fluffy” (again, like a dandelion), I can start collecting seed.

The flowers are gone and the “fluff” is coming. I’ll wait till a bit more comes and then start harvesting the seed.

Several Ways to Collect Seed

  • You could make a bag of row cover fabric and tie it over the flowering/seed producing part. Seeds will fall into the bag.

Other than making the bag, this requires less effort and no other attention from you until you remove the bag when seeding is finished.

This is also an excellent and easy way to prevent possible cross pollination.

I’ve also done this with large thin paper bags. The fabric bag is much better, especially for air circulation; but in a pinch this works.

You’ll notice I had written the variety on the bag with a sharpie.  It rained. The bag dried in the sun the next day.  I just had to extra careful about making sure the contents of the bag dried.  Not the best idea, but it worked.

  • Another way is to shake the plants each day or every other day and let the seed fall into a paper bag. (If you have more than one variety be sure and mark the variety on the bag.)

(Be aware that all kinds of little insects usually end up in the bag. Once you put the contents of the bag into a shallow container they’ll leave.)

If for some reason you’ve missed most of the seed producing time and the plant is about finished, you can

  • cut the stalk and shake what’s left of the seed into a bag, a tub, or bucket.


This lettuce is about finished seeding. It was planted in the fall. As summer progressed I planted tomatoes in the bed and culled out the lettuce I didn’t want to seed.

Cleaning the Seed (or not)

When I’m collecting seed, there’s so much chaff and fluff that I have to scoop up a hand full and look closely to see if I really do have lettuce seed.

(Some lettuce seed is dark and some is white. )

According to most sources, it’s easy to remove the chaff and fluff before storing.

Supposedly when you pour the collected seed, chaff , and fluff into a shallow tray and run a fan at low speed near the tray, the chaff and fluff will leave and the seed will stay.

The first time I tried this, all the chaff and fluff left, but so did the seed.

I’m sure you’ll do much better than I did. In case you don’t, feel free to store the seed with chaff and fluff. Just make sure it all air drys completely before storing. I’ve done that for years with no problem.

How Long Will Lettuce Seed Keep?

Most sources state that lettuce seed keeps for 6 years when stored properly.

I’ve had it remain viable even longer.

Final Thought

It’s pretty miraculous when you think about being able to create seed that is better adapted to your soil, climate and unique growing conditions.

Nothing special needed, other than the desire to do it.


Related Posts:

Seed Saving/Seed Storage

Focus on What You Can Do


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Saving Seed – Reasons to Put It on the Priority List

Once we’re no longer a kid, time seems to move more quickly.
That can awaken us to the fact that even the seemingly minor decisions we make from day to day and what we do with life’s precious minutes, can make a huge difference in our future well being.

Knowing even the basic facts about what’s happening in the seed industry, can be powerful enough to determine our behavior regarding whether or not we save seed from vegetables we grow.

Loss of Diversity

There use to be hundreds of varieties of each vegetable. For example, in 1903 there were 497 varieties of lettuce. By 1983 there were only 36 (according to Rural Advancement Foundation International).

Of the 5,000 varieties of vegetables offered for sale in 1981, only 500 were offered in U.S. seed catalogs by 2005.

This great diversity was nature hedging her bets against failure of any one crop in crisis conditions like climate swings, etc. Diversity is a back up plan to insure survival.

As I mentioned in a previous post, profit controls what seeds are commercially  grown and saved.  Minor crops like those specifically adapted for special regions, taste, nutrition and other specialized corners of the seed market are in danger of being lost forever.

And there goes diversity which would literally insure survival in times of vulnerability.

Chemical and Biotech Companies Buying Up Seed Companies

It was estimated that 20,000 (yes, 20,000!) seed companies were bought by corporations since 1970. And these chemical/biotech companies continue to buy those that will sell to them.

When Monsanto bought the largest vegetable and fruit seed company in the world (Seminis) back in 2005,  43% of the world’s commercial seed supply was then owned by just 4 agrichemical companies (chemical companies involved with agriculture).

As you may have heard, the merger of Bayer and Monsanto seems imminent; as does that of Syngenta and ChemChina.

This will put an even larger part of the world’s commercial seed market under the control of just a few giant multi-national corporations.

Creating Seed for Your Own Unique Growing Conditions

When you save seed from plants grown in your garden, that variety over a period of time adapts to YOUR unique growing conditions.

By taking out inferior or less robust plants and saving only the strongest and best you’ll continually improve the performance of whatever vegetable that seed produces.

Seed suppliers who grow fields of plants for seed, seldom (if ever) take out inferior plants. They save everything. You get the worst with the best.

Knowing that, it’s easy to understand why in a couple or 3 years, your seed is going to out perform any seed of the same variety you could purchase.

Fortunately, saving seed is not complicated and all it takes is a bit of forethought.

Tip: Note the How, What, and When

Until the how, what, and when becomes part you, it’s helpful to make a few notes and tack ‘em to the frig or someplace readily visible for the growing season. (You’ll be amazed at how much this small act can help you get the job done more easily. The more you take a look at your simple notes, the more comfortable you’ll be with taking the necessary actions.)

Final Thoughts

If you don’t already, consider saving seed this year.

With many varieties becoming extinct and giant corporations in control of what remains, having your own seed could make a big difference in how well you can feed yourself and your family in the not too distant future.


Suggested Reading:

Garden Seed/Heirloom or Hybrid/Information to Help Make the Choice

Monsanto -Don’t Entrust Your Life to Them

Principle of Diversity – Assuring Your Success

Information to Think on Before You Purchase Food, Hydroponics, Cafo-Meats, Vitamins and Grain for Your Animals That You Might Think is Organic


All content including photos is copyrighted by All Rights Reserved.