Friday, September 10, 2010

Lettuce keep planting

Newly planted lettuce patch in raised bed.
Two days ago I put in two large patches of lettuce.
A row of spinach and short rows of arugula and radishes were planted alongside the lettuce. Next week I will plant more radishes, for a steady supply of these quick growing gems.
This is in addition to lettuce that I planted about a week earlier, which has already sprouted.
When the weather starts getting uncomfortably close to freezing, “low tunnels” made of half-inch PVC pipe and clear plastic sheeting -- a miniature greenhouse -- will be created over the lettuce patches.
Using this method, a friend was able to pick lettuce all last winter.
I was surprised that she was able to keep the lettuce going through the winter. Perhaps the heavy snows we received insulated her tunnels against the cold. Or perhaps it will work in pretty much any winter.
Encouraged by her success, we decided to try it this fall and winter to support our salad-eating habit.
Hay or straw bales stacked around the tunnels, especially on the north-wind side, will provide extra insulation. On the coldest nights, heavy blankets can be thrown over the tunnel to prevent heat that has built up during the day from escaping.

PVC pipe hoops over the new lettuce patch, ready for its
cover. Behind it is a kale patch shrouded in row cover to
 keep out the cabbage butterflies.
And believe me, on a sunny day a lot of heat can build up inside a plastic tunnel. One fall I tried growing cabbage, broccoli and their relatives under low tunnels. We put a wireless thermometer sensor inside one of the tunnels and were amazed at how much heat they could hold. On a sunny, 40-degree day the temperature inside the tunnel would be 60, 70 or higher.
Unfortunately, that was a bad year to try that, as the highs continued to get into the 60s and 70s well into December and I didn’t take time to open the ends and vent the tunnels. So our kale and such suffered from too much heat.
This year, I will remember to vent the lettuce patches if the temp exceeds 50 on a sunny day.

During the last week of August I set out transplants of cabbage, lacinato kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli that I started in June and July. They live under a protective row cover, which keeps out the nefarious egg-laying imported cabbage butterflies and cabbage loopers. These fluttery things only sip nectar, but their larvae will gobble up a small cabbage family plant in no time.
The young transplants were watered every other day until the weather cooled more and rain started coming. A 30 percent shade cloth would have helped them along by cutting down the amount of hot late-August sun they received. A few of the weakest plants shrivelled under the sun's gaze, but most of the plants survived.
This year, we will actually eat the cabbages. I'll make cabbage stew and/or sauerkraut.
Next year, we hope to have a root cellar in which to store our cabbages and other goods. But that's another story.

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