This year is the first time I remember not having all the lettuce I could eat well into August. And even in the early spring I had less than the amount I like.
I’m going all out in September and October to make sure lettuce is plentiful in the garden for fall, winter and next spring.
Starting Seed – Staggered Plantings – When to Transplant
I started seed in flats the first week in September and will continue doing that through October. (I have 3 plantings started already. Each week I sow seed of several varieties in containers.)
The first planting is up about one inch. The second planting is only about 1/4 inch tall. The third planting has just germinated except for Winter Density which takes a few days longer.
One brief shower is all the rain we’ve had for weeks. Even that tropical storm that went through several weeks ago didn’t bring rain. Just wind; and that wasn’t too bad.
Needless to say, my garden is pretty dry. I won’t put the seedlings out until some rain arrives to soak the soil. Then I’ll transplant anything that is two inches or more.
I use to transplant even the tiniest of seedlings and have them grow fine. For the past several years, any tiny seedlings transplanted disappear over night. I’m thinking crickets may be the culprits, but I’m not sure. Letting the seedlings get bigger seemed to solve the problem.
Germination Soil Temperatures
To germinate, lettuce likes soil temperatures that are below 80º F. Temperatures outside were too hot the first of September, so I brought it inside to germinate and moved it outside after germination.
How Temperatures Can Impact Your Lettuce
I had wanted to get started in August to give the lettuce more time to grow before cold weather, but was hesitant because of the heat.
It would have germinated inside. But many times when lettuce is started and then placed outside in extremely hot temperatures it’ll bolt before cold weather arrives. So, I waited until the first week in September.
Reasons Staggered Plantings Make a Difference
You never know from one week to the next here in zone 7 what the late summer temperatures will be and how it’ll impact your lettuces. Staggered plantings ensure that I’ll have enough plants to do well and take me through the fall, winter and spring of next year.
A Couple of Favorites and Why I Plant Them
I’ve started various lettuces that I love, like Sierra Batavia. I should have time to enjoy about 6 weeks of bountiful picking and maybe more if the weather holds.
But when real cold sets in Sierra Batavia usually shrinks and fades even with the protection of cover. I’ve seen a few pieces make it through the winter, but not many.
That’s when the more hardy lettuces like Winter Density and Endive will be on the menu.
With the onset of cold and lessening of daylight hours growth will be slow even with the hardier lettuces. I have to ration, but I’ll have lettuce.
When there’s nothing else to pick in the winter because of slow growth, I can usually count on Endive. I wouldn’t be without it, at least not on purpose.
Not sure what variety mine is but I let it go to seed each year. I already have some decent size plants (volunteers) that I’ve picked leaves from 3 times. It’s particular good this time of year because the leaves are still new and tender.
As it grows larger it’s not as tender and delicious as regular lettuces, but in a pinch it gives me the greens I crave in the winter. I find that cutting it in thin strips and coating with olive oil and vinegar makes the mature leaves much more tasty.
It’s said to have more Vitamin A than any green.
Hopefully my Siera Batavia will be bountiful and I can resist picking my Winter Density this fall. Letting it get as large as possible before winter sets in (and growth slows) will ensure that I’ll get more during the winter under the cover of my makeshift cold frames. (See pictures here.)
In the spring when daylight lengthens and temperatures stay just above freezing this lettuce really shines. And delicious — well, it’s just about the best I ever tasted when it starts major growth in the early spring.
It’s a beautiful Romaine and the heads are robust and gorgeous.
I seldom pick heads of lettuce, but rather continually harvest the leaves. When they start stalking, taste is still sweet and delicious as long as temperatures don’t get too hot. Even with the heat, I had Winter Density way into June and a few pieces into July last year.
One More Tip that May Save You from Disappointment
Seedlings in Containers
One of the most disappointing things I’ve experienced is to have all those gorgeous seedlings in flats and have them all ruined by a hard rain. It’s heartbreaking! At least to me it was.
To prevent that, be aware of the weather and when you expect rain cover your seedlings (or bring them inside) so the rain won’t beat them down.
You can put them under a portable cold frame or cover with a tunnel like piece of screen. I use a flat that has small mesh and turn it upside down over the flats or containers of lettuce. It allows rain to get through, but not beat down the lettuce. The container takes the impact and the lettuce will be fine.
Seedlings in the Garden
And if you’re wondering about what you should do to prevent this from happening to seedlings you’ve just transplanted in the garden the answer is a simple one.
After you transplant your lettuce seedlings, always sprinkle them with a layer of straw that covers the soil. If you get down close, you should be able to still see the seedlings under the criss-crossing pieces of straw. It will be just enough to protect the seedlings from rain and also from the heat of the sun. They’ll grow and come through just fine. Add more straw as they grow.
If you haven’t started your lettuce yet, you still have time. You won’t get as much growth as if you had started earlier, but you’ll still have lettuce. Even late plantings protected from severe cold in the winter can insure that you have a bounty of great lettuce in the early spring when many other gardeners are just starting to plant.
Enjoy the lettuce your efforts will produce!
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