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Lettuce – Favorites, Tips, and Several Sources

If someone you know doesn’t like lettuce, more than likely it’s because they’ve only had iceberg lettuce—–the most widely sold and available lettuce at grocery stores. Iceberg ships and holds well, so it’s easy to see why it’s grown by market growers.  But nutrient content is minuscule and it lacks flavor as well.

Varieties offered to the home gardener are numerous.  They outshine store-bought in taste as well as nutrition.  And you won’t need bottled-from-the-store dressing. A splash of olive oil and wine vinegar and maybe a sprinkle of salt make it a gourmet treat. You can get fancier if you want.

A variety of lettuces makes for delicious salads.

When to Order

With more folks turning to gardening, it’s a good idea to get your order in for seed by around the first of the year to make sure you get the selection you want.  Some companies sell out of the most popular seeds rather quickly.

  • A tip: Some lettuces do better in the low light and temperatures of winter than others do. So be sure to order the varieties you are going to plant in the fall when you place your spring order. If you wait, your selection may not be available.

Variety (Diversity) is the Key to Success

To get the most from your efforts in growing lettuce, select at least 3 of the 4 types (Loose Leaf, Romaine, Butterhead, Crisphead) and 1 or 2 varieties of each type. There are so many from which to choose. I try several new varieties each year.  Each one performs a bit differently and has its own characteristics.

4 varieties seeded in a flat during February and ready for planting in March.

Transplanting lettuce seedlings. In my left hand is a clump of seedlings taken from the flat.  With my right hand I’m planting one seedling in the hole just made.  Because I graze my lettuce rather than letting it head, I leave only a couple of inches between each seedling.

Wonder What You’ll Do with All that Lettuce?

If you’re wondering what you will do with all that lettuce — the following might put that concern to rest.

  • You’ll eat lots of it if you start grazing it when the leaves are about 2 inches. That’s what I do.  I pick it every day and have it for lunch and dinner.

These various lettuces have been harvested in the fall, winter, and spring. They are shown here in April – still giving me delicious lettuce. Pictured are Red Oakleaf, Little Gem, Green Deers Tongue, Reine des Glaces, Freckles, Red Sails, and a Baby red romaine.

  • Lettuce seed keeps well when stored in a cool, dark, dry place.  I’ve always read that it should be stored in a closed glass jar in a cool place, but I keep mine in a box in an unheated room.  I have pretty good results in keeping it viable for at least 3 years and sometimes for 6. So if you have some left over — you can either plant in the fall or save for next year.
  • Some of it is so beautiful you can grow it in your perennial borders.
  • Allow your favorites to produce seed and save it for next year.

A Good Mix

If you’re just starting out and you don’t want to buy all those different varieties, buy a good mix.  But be warned – all mixes are not created equally. To get a mix that will give you the lettuce you like, make sure you know what lettuces are in the mix. That way — you can quickly do a bit of research and see if those particular lettuces appeal to you.

Last year – I bought a summer mix — and very unwisely didn’t think anything about the supplier not mentioning what lettuces were in it.  I was so unhappy with it.  Didn’t like but one lettuce out of the five and here I wasted all that time on something I didn’t like. So, again – make sure you know what’s in the mix.

Sources (Suppliers)

There are a lot of great sources for lettuce seed.  You might want to check out several.  I’ll give a partial list at the end.  But you’ll find it hard to beat the prices and value you’ll find at Pinetree Garden Seeds, Heirloom Seeds, and Diane’s Seeds. They are much cheaper than others sources I’ve found and they give you lots of seed.

For example:  A package of any variety of lettuce seed from Pinetree Garden Seeds contains 500  seed and is 95 cents to $1.65.  Heirloom Seeds offers about 350 lettuce seed for $1.25.  Diane’s Seeds offers 800 lettuce seeds for $2.25 to $2.75.  These prices are hard to beat!

You’ll find other suppliers who offer 50 seeds for $1.25.  Another offers 250 seeds for $2.75. And still others offer a package for $3.25 to 3.95 and I never could find how many seeds were in the package.

You can’t find everything at Pinetree, Heirloom, or Diane’s, of course, but they’re three great places to start.

Heirloom Seeds and Diane’s Seed carry heirloom open-pollinated seeds. Pinetree carries mostly open-pollinated seed varieties.  (That way – if you want to save the seed for next year – it will be like the parent plant.)  If it’s a hybrid Pinetree will indicate that next to the variety name.

A Review of My Favorites over 33 years of Growing Lettuce

Looseleaf types:

Green Deers Tongue Lettuce – (Sometimes listed under bibb lettuces rather than looseleaf.) This heirloom has been around for not quite 300 years. It’s a MUST HAVE in my garden.  Looks beautiful.  Tastes great.   I’m still picking this when it turns hot and others are stalking-up. Also does well for me under a cold frame in winter. (Called Matchless by some suppliers.) (I saw the name Amish Green Deer Tongue on a couple of websites, but am not sure if it’s the same.)

A red romaine, a lime green loose leaf and green deer tongue (bottom right in photo) in mid-June.

Red Deers Tongue Lettuce. As it’s green counterpart above, it has a loose-head bibb-type leaves that are tender and fleshy.  Tolerates both heat and cold. (I saw Amish Red Deer Tongue on two websites but am not sure if it’s the same.)

Lollo Rossa Lettuce – One of the most beautiful lettuces I have ever grown. Tightly frilled deep red and green lettuce.  Delicious. If you let some fully mature you can use it as a table decoration  – like a flower.  It’s that pretty. After last year, it’s now a MUST HAVE in my garden.

Red Sails Lettuce – Early.  Slow to bolt.  I consider it a classic.  I find it doesn’t do well for me under a cold frame in severe cold, but its worth planting as both a spring and fall crop. After I first saw it growing by a friend’s back door in the heat of July one year, I’ve grown it every year for the last 30 years. So yes, it’s a MUST HAVE in my garden.

Oakleaf Lettuce – Another heirloom.  I consider this a MUST HAVE. When my other lettuces are stalking up in July, this lettuce is still holding its own and still delicious. It’s backup and I count on it to extend my lettuce season. Comes in green and red.

Red Oakleaf. Still full when others are starting to stalk-up (bolt).

Romaine (also known as Cos lettuce) Types:

Little Gem — A short Romaine that is one of my all time favorites.  MUST HAVE in my garden. Holds well in the heat.  One of the best for my cold frame in winter. Looks beautiful and tastes good.

Freckles Lettuce – Flavor is great and it’s slow to turn bitter in the summer.  I plant only in the spring as I’ve found it doesn’t do well for me in the cold of winter although I’ve seen it included in Winter mixes.  Don’t be hesitant to try it yourself in winter —–it might do great for you.

A friend picking Red Romaine and Freckles lettuce in my garden. Still sweet in late June.

Cimmaron Lettuce – I grew this heirloom dating to the 1700s for years and loved it.  This lettuce was almost lost and still is not widely available. You might want to save your seed from this one just in case. Bronze-red color.

Winter Density Lettuce – This is a MUST HAVE in my garden.  Performs well in spring and in winter under my cold frames. Compact with dark green leaves full of flavor.  Slow to stalk or turn bitter. One of the best. Very reliable.

Paris White Cos Lettuce – A French heirloom.  Thomas Jefferson is said to have brought this lettuce back to Monticello in the late 1700’s and it grew there for 60 years.  Slow growing, but excellent. A great romaine to use in Caesar Salad. I’ve grown it off and on over a period of 33 years.

Forellenschuss Lettuce –  An Austrian heirloom also known as “Flashy Trout Back”. Loose Romaine type that holds very well in summer heat.

Silvia – A true red romaine.  Delicious and stunning in the garden and in a salad.

Butterhead (sometimes called Bibb) Types:

Merveille Des Quatre Saison Lettuce (Marvel of 4 Seasons) – A French Heirloom.  Beautiful red/green rosette.  Crisp excellent flavor.  Does best in the cool of spring or autumn.  I don’t grow this every year, but really enjoy it when I do. It’s magnificent.

Crisphead Types:

Reine Des Glaces — French heirloom (a/k/a Ice Queen).  Absolutely one of the most beautiful and a MUST HAVE in my garden.  Medium to dark green.  I’ve picked this lettuce in hot weather and have been amazed at it’s holding power. Crisp and delicious.  This is the one you would use if you wanted to serve tuna salad (or something similar) and you wanted to use lettuce as its “container” on the plate. One of my all time favorites.

Partial List of Sources for Lettuce Seed

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
Burpee
Bountiful Gardens
Cooks Garden
Cherry Gal
Diane’s Seeds (also known as Diane’s Flower Seeds)
Heirloom Seeds
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Seeds of Change
Seed Savers Exchange
Territorial Seed Company

__________

Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and it’s a lot healthier.
__________

All content including pictures is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights are reserved.

 

15 comments to Lettuce – Favorites, Tips, and Several Sources

  • Sheri

    What a wonderful post! I cant wait to try different varieties (other than what’s sold @ costco) When you start ‘grazing lettuce @ 2″‘, do you just cut off outer leaves or cut off the entire plant & let it re-grow?

  • Theresa

    Hi Sheri,

    I’m so glad you liked the post and found it helpful! You’ll really enjoy trying different lettuces. Soooooo much fun!

    When I graze my lettuce — I pinch off the outer leaves or whatever leaves I think are big enough to pick. You can cut if you want. I just find it easier to pinch the selected leaf at the base.

    I don’t cut the entire plant because usually the leaves in the center are still pretty small. I want them to grow so I can pick them in the next day or two. More lettuce that way! : )

    I’ll look forward to learning what lettuces you select.

    Theresa

  • Sandra

    Theresa, I have to rave about Yugoslavian Red – a butterhead from Seed Savers. It is tender, buttery and delicious as well as very beautiful. We had it for dinner tonight, and it was outstanding.

  • Theresa

    I have seen Yugoslavian Red in seed catalogues and was tempted by it but decided not to get it. I’ll have to rethink that now Sandra. 🙂

  • Alicia

    I’m so glad I found this post. I’ve just started a lettuce mix from seed and have so many seedlings, and wasn’t sure what I needed to do to plant them correctly…the babies are all so close and there are so many. It really helped to see how you planted your seedlings.

  • Theresa

    Glad it helped Alicia!

  • Elizabeth Anderson

    Are all Heirloom seeds organic? We want the best and safest veggies. Thanks Elizabeth.

  • Theresa

    Elizabeth, a seed can be an heirloom without being organic. If you want organic seed (whether it’s an heirloom or something else), the seed package or catalog description will say specifically that it is certified organic.
    Hope this helps.
    Theresa

  • Aparna

    Great post Theresa.

    In the third picture when you are transplanting the lettuce, at what stage do you mulch with straw? Right away or after it grows a bit, and how much of straw do you add? Is it a light covering and you add as it keeps growing?

    Your lettuce looks yummy! Love all the pictures.

  • Aparna

    Theresa,
    I just read your other post http://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-plant-in-the-fall-harvest-for-3-seasons/ and looks like all my questions are answered :-).
    Its as if you can ‘read’ your readers mind and explained the process so well.
    Thank you!

  • Theresa

    Aparna, the answers to your questions are addressed in my book as well. Read pages 192 through 196.
    Theresa

  • Aparna

    Thanks Theresa. I did read those pages and a few more :-).

  • Betty Dotson

    I’m having trouble finding several lettuces that you recommended on your blog. Can you share where you found Merville Des Quatre Saison,Cimmaron, Reine Des Glaces & Silvia?
    I found pretty much all of the rest.
    Thanks
    Betty

  • Theresa

    Merville Des Quatre Saison and Cimmaron are carried by Baker Creek Heirloom for one.

    Reine des Glaces is carried by seedsavers.org (and others)

    Silvia is carried by sustainableseedco.com and neseed.com (and others)

    Hope this helps
    Theresa

  • Betty Dotson

    Thanks so much for the info!! I hadn’t had time to check back & was so happy to see your response. Off to order!! You’re the best!
    Thanks again,
    Betty

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