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Lettuce - Time to Plant

March 9

I’m so hungry for lettuce!  What’s in the garden from my fall planting has only given me about 6 salads to date. Lettuce in the winter is slow at best, but the unusual lingering cold of this winter slowed it down even more.  With temperatures and daylight increasing it will soon be growing more quickly—but it can’t grow fast enough to suite me!

The stuff in the stores is so far from homegrown lettuce that I think they should call it by another name. The best they have to offer cannot match, at least in my opinion, homegrown from my garden.  So flavorful and tender — just the thought is making my mouth water.

I like variety so I plant all four lettuce types: Looseleaf, Romaine, Butterhead, and Crisphead.

Looseleaf is the mainstay in my garden since it is among the most heat tolerant and easy to grow.  It grows quickly and thrives in spite of my intense harvesting.  Each season I try a new variety but I have 4 favorites that I plant each year:
1. Red Sails – fast growing and dependable
2. Red Deer Tongue and
3. Green Deer Tongue – dependable and unusual
4. Freckles – produces wonderfully for me in summer.   (It’s sometimes hard to find, but Pinetree Garden Seeds has it.)

Ordering at least one package of spring lettuce mix as well, makes it possible to enjoy leaf lettuces that I don’t want in abundance. Renee Shepherd (Renee’s Garden Seeds) offers wonderful heirloom seeds and I ordered her Farmer’s Market Blend and her Asian Baby Leaf Mix as well.  I can hardly wait to try them.

Among the Romaines (or Cos) I have two favorites:
1. Little Gem – a beautiful little miniature that is wonderful in salads
2. Winter Density – great for fall planting as well

Butterhead varieties are usually small and loose-heading with soft, tender leaves.  The one that does best for me is the heirloom, Four Seasons.

Have tried a lot of crisphead lettuces but the one that I love and have grown for years is the heirloom, Reine des Glaces.  It’s both beautiful and delicious.

Over the years I have occasionally sown my lettuce seed directly into the garden, but it never does as well as when I sow into flats and then transplant the inch high seedlings.

My flats have been ready to plant for nearly three weeks, but everyday something took priority over the planting. No matter –its probably perfect right now with just above freezing at night and 40 to 60 in the day.

A 10% bleach solution (90% water and 10% bleach) is used to clean my flats after they sit for the winter.  That should kill any pathogens that would harm my seedlings-to-be.  I use a little brush which also serves to get any cocoons that may have been spun by insects last fall.

Flats are filled with ProMix which I buy in large bags when we get to Richmond. You have to wet this mix down before you plant.  It has a lot of peat in it, so initially it takes some doing to get it wet.

I sow the seed.  Most of the time I cover the seed ever so lightly with some of the mix, but many times I just lightly press the seed into the flat and then mist again with water.  If the potting mix starts to dry I will mist again and will repeat this until the seeds germinate.  Once they start growing the flats don’t seem to dry out as much.

When seedlings are about one inch high, they are ready for my garden.  Approximately a 3″ x 3″ chunk is removed from a flat each day and planted in the garden.  I’ll plant a total of about 4 to 6 flats of lettuce before I’m finished. Staggered  plantings insure that I will have lettuce for the longest possible time into summer.

In a 3 foot wide row I plant 3 (sometimes 4) rows of seedlings spacing them about 1 inch apart. I plant 5 feet of lettuce in various spots throughout the garden.  I choose a shady spot for the last seedlings to be transplanted and even tuck a few here and there to be shaded by other plants in the heat of summer.

I usually have pretty good tasting lettuce until July.
I’ll show and tell more about lettuce as the season progresses.

Picture #1 -Flats just planted.  I put a top on the one just to show you.  I use the tops when it rains so it won’t move the lettuce around or compress the soil mix.

Picture #2 – I wanted to show you what the flats look like with lettuce.  This was last fall.  It’s what I have growing in the garden now.

Picture #3 – This picture was taken in mid June of last year.  Our friend is picking a big bowl of romaine and freckles lettuce.  Note the mulch, volunteer potato and daylilies as well as the lush growth of lettuce.

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