There’s nothing like the sweet taste of early spring lettuce. It’s always a disappointment when hot dry weather comes and causes bolting and bitterness.
But don’t be in such a hurry to pull up your lettuce when that happens. There are some secrets to getting lettuce that’s tasty through mid July or longer.
Several Immediate Things To Do
- If lettuce is stressed by hot weather, pick early in the morning. It’s had the night to recover from the sun, so its life force will be the strongest.
- To get that freshly harvested quality in any season, you should always have an ample size bowl of cool water with you in the garden. Immerse the lettuce in the water immediately after picking it.
Note: The possible exception to this would be if you are harvesting heads of lettuce. I get the most out of my lettuce by grazing continually, never allowing it to head.
- Pick new leaves. Old leaves tend to be stronger tasting.
Water and cold can work miracles in restoring some of the sweetness to your lettuce in these two tips:
- Let your lettuce soak in the water for about an hour after harvest. (Be sure you use water that is pure and not loaded with chlorine and chemicals.)
- After gently washing and drying place in a plastic bag. Keep refrigerated for 24 to 48 hours before eating.
Things to Do Before the Season
- Make sure your soil has lots of organic matter. It feeds your lettuce and also retains moisture. (Good nutrients and water go a long way towards sweet lettuce)
- Plant different varieties. Some lettuces take the heat better than others.
Try a few new varieties each year and find out what works best for you.
Keep in mind lettuces that have a characteristically sharp, bitter flavor won’t be changed by anything you can do. Endive lettuce is an example.
- Plant a little lettuce every week in the early spring. Some plantings will do better than others. But you won’t know which ones until the time arrives. (I call it backup.)
- Mulch your lettuce. It keeps the soil temperatures cooler and helps retain moisture vital to sweetness.
- Plant in various spots and include some spots of partial shade. (You’re gonna be amazed at how some of these will outshine the others.)
- Plant in the shade of your other vegetables. I plant lettuce between my tomatoes. If you trellis your cukes, plant lettuce where it will be shaded by the big cuke leaves.
And by the way, just because it’s bitter today — don’t assume that it will be bitter tomorrow. Here’s an example of what I mean:
The rains stopped in late spring this year. To make matters worse, the temperatures were above 90 degrees. The lettuce didn’t like it! It was only the first of June and almost every variety I had was bitter.
We waited 4 weeks before the rain came again. Only 1/2 inch, but it was amazing the difference it made in the lettuce. Two days later we had another 7/8 inch and the lettuce was as sweet as early spring. Here it is July and it’s still delicious.
You can’t predict the weather. If you pull up things too quickly, you miss the opportunity to take advantage of good fortune.
If It’s Too Far Gone to Eat in a Salad
Use it as a cooked green. It’s delicious! I’ll give you an easy recipe in my next post.
Other Posts on Lettuce:
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