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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
Diane’s Seeds (also known as Diane’s Flower 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.
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