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