If you’ve seen the handwriting on the wall with chemical companies buying up as many seed companies as will sell out to them and the other undesirable things going on in big agribusiness — you’re already saving seed from your crops whenever you can.
A unique benefit of saving seed is that over a period of 3 or 4 years you will have created a seed (a lettuce) that is tailored for your garden and your unique conditions. And of course, it saves you money and insures that you’ll have these varieties to plant in the future.
If you love lettuce like I do you like lots of varieties and start succession planting from late February through May to provide a nice supply of lettuce through most of the summer.
Since lettuce will be in the garden a long time from seedling to setting seed, it’s helpful to have a strategy that will save as much valuable garden space as possible.
When lettuce stalks it gets big and tall. Then a storm with wind comes along and the stalk falls over. The tips continue to grow upright. It can take up a lot more space than is convenient — especially when you’re trying to plant other things.
Here’s a strategy for saving lettuce seed you may find helpful:
- Make sure the plants are identified with a marker. As lettuce grows to maturity it’s sometimes difficult to identify.
- Keep an eye on the lettuce plants of each variety until it’s obvious which ones are the biggest and best. Select 2 to 4 plants of each variety from which to save seed. (You’ll mix the seed from these plants to get the benefit of diversity from several plants. This will result in a better crop next time you plant.)
- Cut the stalks of the smaller plants near ground level. These roots – left in the ground – will feed and protect various species of soil life such as earthworms and microbes. This will help improve the soil. Microscopic soil life uses live and/or decaying roots to create better soil. (Whenever it’s possible — leave the roots of any finished plants in the beds to decay.)
- Lay the cut tops on top of the soil. (I sometimes cover this with straw.)
- When the seed is made and ready to harvest — shake the seed stalk head into a large bag. ( I do this every few days over a period of one to two weeks.) You can transfer the seed to smaller bags, label, date and store in a cool dry place.
One of the best lettuces I had in the garden this year was a Batavia that I grew from the seed I saved last year.
If you haven’t already, give some thought to saving seed from your lettuces. It takes a little attention and some lettuce gives more seed than others. But you’ll have loads of seed for the future (back-up 🙂 ) and even to share.
Stored properly your lettuce seed should be viable for about 5 years or more.
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