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Lettuce – Kale – Various Greens / Do you Need to Thin Them?

A reader of TMG, Heather, wrote to me yesterday and said she had not gotten around to thinning her kale and lettuces. She said that the packets mentioned suggested spacing and also gave the option of thickly sowing for cutting, especially the Russian Kale and Jericho Romaine.

She wanted to know if she should “still thin at least somewhat? Or just let them be?”

What’s Your Goal for the Lettuce or Green?

There’s really no right or wrong way to thin or space lettuces and greens. How and what you do mostly depends on what your end goal is for that particular crop and/or what you want and what you have time to do.

For Example:

Suggested spacing that you often see for lettuce on seed packets and in articles assumes that you would be harvesting  a mature head of lettuce.  Recommended spacing can vary from 6 inches to 12 inches apart; in addition, conventional suggested spacing between rows is usually 18 inches apart.

My goal is to continually harvest lettuce until the plant quits, so my spacing is a lot different than one that allows the plant to reach maturity before harvesting. When I transplant seedlings, I usually allow 2 to 3 inches between plants.

4 varieties of lettuce transplanted to the garden April 2. Picture taken May 19th.  I've picked this lettuce everyday since mid April.

4 varieties of lettuce transplanted to the garden April 2. Picture taken May 19th. I’ve picked this lettuce everyday since mid April.

I don’t think I ever remember one untouched (ungrazed) head of lettuce being in my garden. I start picking leaves the minute they’re 1 1/2 inches and never stop picking until the weather turns too hot for that particular head. (And sometimes I manage to still get good eating lettuce from those heads even with high summer temperatures. See my post,
Lettuce – Secrets to Getting Eatable Lettuce Lettuce Well into Summer
.)

A Few Other Considerations Before You Decide on Spacing

A. Some varieties just don’t do well when they’re thickly sown. If you’re a big lettuce fan like I am, you’ll constantly be trying new varieties and by experience you’ll come to know what does well and what doesn’t.

  • Reine des Glace, a French heirloom crisphead, which is among my top 10 favorites, does not do well when thickly sown. The quality is so much better when 4 to 6 inches is left between each plant, rather than my usual 2 to 3 inches between lettuce plants.
Reine des Glaces lettuce

Reine des Glaces lettuce. It’ll form a loose head similar to iceberg, but a million times better tasting in my opinion!

  • Russian Kale in all probability will stay much smaller if thickly sown. (Nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like.) If you give it a bit of space (6 to 12 inches between plants), and if it likes that space, it’ll grow 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall and that wide. And the more leaves you pick the more it’ll grow. Unless you eat LOTS of kale, a few plants could be all you need.
6 seedlings of Russian Kale. Two of growing much larger than the other 3.  I'll probably take out the 3 small ones and let the other 2 do their thing.  A few Bronze arrow lettuce plants are behind the Kale.  Behind that is mache from last fall going to seed.

5 seedlings of Russian Kale. Two are growing much larger than the other 3. I’ll probably take out the 3 small ones and let the other 2 do their thing. A few Bronze arrow lettuce plants are behind the Kale. Behind that is mache from last fall going to seed.

 

This Russian Kale plant is one of the few things in my garden that made it through the winter.  The plant will be huge by the time it seeds.  You can see by comparing its leaf to my hand that it's big.  Leaves are tasty even this big, although I usually saute them when they're this size.

This Russian Kale plant is one of the few things in my garden that made it through the winter. The plant will be huge by the time it seeds. You can see by comparing its leaf to my hand that it’s big. Leaves are tasty even this big, although I usually saute them or fix as roasted greens when they’re this size.

 

The yellow blooming plantings on the right hand side are two Russian Kale plants setting seed. Picture was taken in the spring of 2012.

The yellow blooming plants on the right hand side are two Russian Kale plants setting seed. Picture was taken in the spring of 2012. I wanted you to see how much space just two plants can take up.  They’re occupying at least 3 1/2 to 4 feet of that row.

B. If your soil has not yet been improved, it may be that plants will need a lot more space than in a garden with great soil that has high organic matter and an active soil web (life in the soil).

C. All plants need air circulation. If you sow seed so thickly that there is no space between seedlings and don’t plan to thin, make sure that air is not blocked around that patch of lettuce or greens. You’ll get a feel for this the more you garden and pay attention to working with nature.

Blackseeded Simpson directly sown into the garden with a few stray seeds of outredgeous red lettuce. If you get right down to it, this planting is just too thick, but black seeded simpson doesn't seem to object.  The outredgeous red does.  It eventually died out.

Black Seeded Simpson lettuce directly sown into the garden with a few stray seeds of Outredgeous Red lettuce. If you get right down to it, this planting is just too thick, but Black Seeded Simpson doesn’t seem to object. The Outredgeous Red does. It eventually died out. The strongest pieces of BSS took over the patch and eventually seeded.

Heather Just Sent me Some Pictures

Should Heather be concerned about thinning?  If I just couldn’t get to the thinning, I wouldn’t be concerned at all.

A lot of our decisions at times like these depend on how much time we have and what we want from our crops.

Heathers Russian Kale seedlings.

Heather’s Russian Kale seedlings.

 

Heather's lettuce seedlings.

Heather’s lettuce seedlings.

Final Thoughts

Gardening is a learning experience every year.  You can’t learn much if you don’t make some changes now and then.

A great way to get the best of both worlds is to leave a patch unthinned. Then thin another patch to 3 inches or 6 inches. Then you’ll know for sure what you prefer in the future.  You’ll also know, that if you don’t get to do it just like you want, all will still be well.

And remember, keep planting lettuce for another few weeks so you can maintain a continual supply.

I read the other day that Thomas Jefferson planted a teaspoon of lettuce seed everyday from spring through fall to insure that Monticello household would have lettuce all summer long.

Enjoy your greens and lettuces!

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Related Posts

One Reason Plants Wilt and Actions that Help

Winter Gardening – Growing Lettuce – Three tips

Growing Lettuce Plant for a Continual Supply

Lettuce – There’s No Right or Wrong WayLettuce –

Secrets to getting Eatable Lettuce Well into Summer

Lettuce in 100 Degree Heat

Lettuce – Harvesting for Dinner on July 16th

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

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5 comments to Lettuce – Kale – Various Greens / Do you Need to Thin Them?

  • Sue T

    I get “garden envy” every time I look at pictures of your plants! Everything is always so healthy and gorgeous! Thanks for the tips on spacing of lettuce and other greens. I’m just now being able to plant anything, so I’ll keep all your recommendations in mind, including about planting for fall growing. Thanks!

  • Pat

    Theresa, I, too, have thickly planted greens. When they were very young plants, I harvested a few leaves from each one. Now that they are maturing, I am going to cut back every other plant, leaving only the center leaves. That should give plenty of air circulation. My hope would be that the plants grow back quickly enough to give me a decent harvest every week or so.

  • Kevin

    Theresa,

    I love your advice to readers that its OK to experiment in the garden. I’m learning so much about organic gardening by reading TMG but I also enjoy trying something new to see what happens. Also, I love the pictures. You have a beautiful garden and the pictures inspire me to grow new things that I haven’t tried before. Thanks for all the information and advice that you give.

    Kevin

  • Theresa

    Thanks for the compliment Sue. I love hearing it, but realistically speaking – everything is beautiful in its own time. Most of the time the pictures show the best, but I also try to put up pictures that show things at their worst when it fits into the post. The garden is CONSTANTLY changing and just when I think it looks perfect – wait a day – it’s different.

    Gad you are now able to plant. Let me know how things go.

    Pat, sounds like you’ve got a good plan. Let me know if they grow back as quickly as what you want.

    Kevin, I’m delighted you’re learning so much from TMG. And yes, experimenting is great. That’s how you find out great stuff!

    Theresa

  • Sandra

    I’ve used lettuce as a ground cover. My only problem was that it was a slug haven too.

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