Lettuce

March Lettuce Notes & a Thank You to Mache

Having an abundance of lettuce and especially mache during the cool/cold months make my mainstay meals of grated/chopped cabbage, carrots, and garlic or onion much more delicious.

How this Abundance of Greens is Acquired

Each fall I plant three succession plantings of lettuce.

Winter Density is my main lettuce of choice for winter months.

Winter Density lettuce

These staggered plantings in fall allow the staggered growth that provides lettuce early in the fall, through winter, and into late spring of the new year — until the new spring’s lettuce is big enough to harvest.

Saving Seed

I save Winter Density seed every year and have for over two decades.

As days lengthen and warmer weather comes, each planting stalks and sets seed; usually in the order in which they’re planted. 

Stalks that look less than robust are removed.  The others remain for seed saving. The number of stalks for seed collecting in each of the 3 plantings are anywhere from 10 to 20. 

Although one stalk gives more than enough seed for a home gardener, I collect from numerous plants for the sake of genetic diversity within the variety. 

What If Another Variety Ended up in that Bed and Set Seed –  Will they Cross-Pollinate?

On occasion one or two pieces of another variety from my saved seed might make an appearance within a bed that was intended as a Winter Density- only bed.

By the time to harvest seed I’ve usually forgotten about the other variety.

If it’s set seed,  it’s collected along with the Winter Density seed.  But  I’ve never had a problem with different varieties of lettuce cross pollinating even when grown side by side.

From what I read years ago in Suzanne Ashworth’s book, Seed to Seed, that seems to be the norm.  (She mentioned that some growers report about 5% of their lettuce cross pollinates.)

Good  News about Reine des Glaces – One of my Top Favorite Lettuces

It’s known as a crisphead or iceberg lettuce although I think crisphead describes it the best.

Reine des Glaces lettuce before it heads. (Mine never gets a chance to head. I harvest and eat it when it looks like the picture above.)

The tasteless iceberg lettuce sold in grocery stores is nothing like the beautiful and delicious Reine des Glaces. 

Until last year I’ve always started it only in the early spring.

What’s in a Name?

I should have awakened long ago to the fact that there is a reason it sometimes goes by the name ice queen (or Queen of the Ice).  Yes – you’re quicker than I was — it’s because of its cold hardiness.

Considering how crisp and succulent the leaves are — I had always assumed it wouldn’t make it through sub-freezing winter temps.

Experiment #1

Last fall I transplanted several seedlings in a spot that I pass when I enter the garden.  In below freezing temperatures I covered it with a small piece of gauze-like row cover cloth and weighted the sides down with a short metal stake. Nothing sturdy,  secure, or fancy.

The gauze-like row cover fabric I used to cover these seedlings.

Below is a picture of the lettuce and the mache that came up (volunteered) around it.  (Took the picture a few days ago.)

It’s a bit deeper green than it will be when it starts growing more. Nonetheless – the ruffly look at the leaf edges is definitely indicative of this variety.

The pieces of Mache that have come up among the lettuce are still small. I’ll harvest those to give the lettuce more room.

Reine des Glaces and volunteer Mache in late winter.

Experiment #2

At another spot in the garden I transplanted another seedling.  No covering whatsoever all winter.  Temperatures went to 22ºF a couple of nights. And there were quite a few nights at 26ºF . And many nights at 28º F to 32ºF.

Do you notice the difference in this seedling (shown below) and the ones shown in the picture above?  The leaves changed texture in a manner that appeared to me to be one of the ways it stood up to the cold temperatures.

Reine des Glaces in late winter

It doesn’t even look like Reine des Glaces. But the seed is from the same package as the other seedlings in the picture above.  So unless the growers got the seeds mixed — it’s the same variety.  The truth will become obvious as it starts to put out new growth.

Would it have been different under the protective covers of my regular winter tunnels and kept it’s usual delicious crispness? I think so, but will find out for sure next year.

Will I grow it in winter henceforth – even if it’s not as delicious in winter?

Yes

Why?

Because now with the weather warming — these over-wintered plants will produce new leaves that are delicate, crisp and delicious.  Leaves from this prized lettuce that overwintered should be ready to enjoy in a salad by the last part of this month or April.

In past years, I was just starting the seed in March or April.

The fact that this lettuce can make it through some fairly cold weather should delight readers who already know how delicious it is and think they can’t grow it in the winter.

Seed Saving??

Crisphead lettuces are noted for being difficult when it comes to saving seed.

I’m not sure if I was successful or not last year. I won’t know until it germinates (or not). Never did really see any seed but continued shaking the stalk daily into the bag.

It is nothing like the Winter Density that sends up tall strong stalks and sets seed that you can definitely see. Reine des Glaces stalks are thin and about 12 to 24 inches tall.

A Thank You to Mache for the Abundance

Mache in late winter. The size I love to harvest.

It’s one of the best (if not THE best) and most delicious of all greens. Would hate to spend a winter without it!

I allow it to reseed all over my garden every year.  Also collect some seed as well. (Always good to have backup.)

Mache starts coming up in the fall.  Harvest lasts all winter and into early spring.  It thinks nothing of ice and temperatures way below freezing.

(Although you might keep in mind that it will grow more in the winter under some protection.)

After flowering starts when temperatures warm, you’ll have a hard time getting enough for a meal.  (Sometimes I try anyway.)

If you don’t have it in your garden, I think you’re really missing out on something wonderful. Not to mention it’s packed with nutrients like Vitamin C, pro-Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and iron and a few other things.  Happened upon and am sharing an article with headlines that tell most of the story about its healthfulness.

Lettuce and Mache – Not Survival Food?

Lettuce and Mache may not be considered good survival foods to most folks, but they are to me.

They make my limited selection of food in the winter much more palatable. There are times I wouldn’t eat if I couldn’t add them to my meals – especially Mache.

Grand knowing that I’m getting a healthy dose of fresh Vitamin C everyday during the winter. (And yes, my amounts might be more than most folks eat.)

Final Thoughts

If you purchased Mache seed for this year and have already planted, it’s doubtful any will germinate this spring.  However, it will most likely make an appearance in the fall.

Hope your winter garden was abundant and that the coming growing season will be your best ever!

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Suggested reading on Mache and Lettuce (Reasons to grow and how to be eating it longer)

https://tendingmygarden.com/mache-why-grow-it-and-secrets-to-having-enough/

https://tendingmygarden.com/six-reasons-to-grow-mache/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-making-sure-you-have-enough-for-fall-winter-next-spring/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-varieties-to-keep-you-eating-all-year-or-at-least-10-months/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-variety-is-one-secret-to-enjoying-it-well-into-summer/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-in-100-degree-heat/

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5 Comments

  • Excellent Post. I had an amazing thing happen a couple years ago with lettuce. I planted Deer Tongue and Romaine and let a few go to seed to plant the next year. They did cross pollinate! I ended up with an interesting variety that had the growth characteristics of Deer Tongue (Long “tongue like” leaves) with the crispy texture and crinkly leaves like Romaine. (Deer tongue is a butter lettuce). It was really cool and I enjoyed it. I didn’t save any seeds from the plants though so I don’t know if these characteristics became permanent or not.

  • Hey Theresa!

    Don in Stafford, Virginia here. Great to get your latest update. I have a LOT of volunteer lettuce already established and putting out fresh leaves and it includes Winter Density. These all survived over winter and looked terrible during the winter but are now a beautiful green! So tasty!
    My many different mustards over wintered as well and are now slowly going to seed. Tasty as well! I find that I no longer need to plant mustards as they are all now volunteers!

  • Theresa,
    I notice you grow a lot of lettuce varieties which, as you have said, is good for many reasons. I am curious if there is one lettuce you really like best overall, based on flavor alone?

  • Hiya Theresa!
    Mache marches on…… this past winter we had about a week of Arctic cold here in western KY. Single digits during the day kind of cold. Toward the end of it I went out to check on things and mache was just sitting straight up like “What?!?!? Did something happen?!?!? Was it cold?!?!” Amazing stuff.
    It does a great job of self seeding and sprouts/grows throughout the winter and spring as if it’s been succession planted. I’ll save seed again this year and in the fall start another patch or two in out of the way spots and/or along the edges of beds.
    As far as greens being survival food… my Grandma always used to say “Harold, be sure to eat your greens. A person needs to eat their greens.” She lived to be 101 years old. My Mom, who was also a huge fan of greens lived to be 95. So I’d say, yes, they are survival food!! You gotta balance out the high calories food with their goodness.
    Did I tell you I found TMG (way back when) while searching on “how to grow mache”? The rest, as they say, is history….
    Take care and God bless,
    Harold

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