Friday, May 20, 2011

The Lettuce Report

Carmona. A butterhead type. Resists bolting. Stands up to heat and cold.
It's back.
This past winter you were spellbound by my adventures in growing lettuce through the winter.
You cheered when the lettuce survived bitter cold.
Winter lettuce under plastic with lights on a string for warmth.
You cried when the lettuce finally died.

The lettuce saga has been revived. On Tuesday I picked a large basket full of lettuce, mostly romaine. Instead of cutting off the whole plant, I just take the largest leaves and let the rest grow.

This winter I purchased seed for 14 different types of lettuce with varying degrees of tolerance to heat and cold. As the season progresses, the type of seed I plant will change. 
This was suppose to be RED Deers Tongue.

So far, I have made three succession plantings of lettuce. The first planting was made in early March, under plastic hoop houses. The plastic was later replaced by a heavy row cover. The row cover is off of one of the beds, which also has spinach and arugula. I removed the row cover after finding the arugula heavily infested with aphids. But that's another post.

Green Salad Bowl
Germination of the spring lettuce has been spotty, leaving gaps in the rows. Do I get some areas covered too deeply? Or not covered well enough? Do the beds not remain damp enough? I don't know why germination is so poor. The Super Jericho romaine has been a champion, though. It has germinated well, when others didn't. This is quite a robust variety.

Other varieties planted in March were Carmona, Red Deers Tongue and Green Salad Bowl. All are said to stand up well in cold and heat.

Super Jericho Romaine truly is super!
In April, the second planting went in -- May Queen (I just like the name), Royal Oakleaf (keeps coming back after cutting), Buttercrunch (tender and tasty) and more Super Jericho Romaine. The third planting made in early May finished off my Super Jericho seed. The other varieties planted then were selected for their resistance to bolting and tolerance of heat: Red Sails, Merveille de Quatre Saisons (aka Marvel of Four Seasons), Merlot (a rich red leaf) and New Red Fire. These were planted in what will eventually be the shade of tomatoes.

Buttercrunch, way too crowded. But I hate thinning.
The next planting will go in a spot where they will be shaded by okra. I will plant these heat resistant varieties, plus one or two more, maybe.

I bought seed for a crisp head lettuce called Summertime. By its name, you can pretty much guess it is suppose to stand up to hot weather. I have never grown crisp head lettuce (the common iceberg is a crisp head type), so I'm feeling a little wary. I will probably start that indoors and set it out as transplants -- if it is not too late.

Anyway, only time will tell if these so called heat resistant varieties really do stay sweeter when the temperatures remain in the upper 80s and 90s.

The third planting is just now sprouting.
Writing this, I am beginning to wonder if we will have too much lettuce. Once the spinach quits, the lettuce will be our only salad green. So maybe not. Maybe it is a good thing the lettuce is germinating poorly.

Growing leafy greens, such as lettuce, means feeding them well. The soil was enriched with compost and horse manure before planting. During the growing season, I will give them supplemental feedings of fish emulsion or manure tea. Of course, that may be mere fantasy on my part. I have a tendency to get distracted and procrastinate these things.

This survivor from last fall made a pretty
effect as it prepared to flower. And it was not
really bitter.
Come fall I will plant the more cold tolerant varieties. I am eager to see if the Winter Density Romaine does as well as Super Jericho. The fall/winter lettuce will first be protected by heavy row cover, then by plastic. I do not know whether I will use the lights again, or the black-painted buckets of water for warmth on the colder nights. I may mix it up and see what really works. Throwing sheets and blankets over the tunnels at sundown definitely helps stabilize the temperature inside.

This is probably enough about lettuce for now. I don't want you to tire of this saga before it really gets started. I will keep you updated on how the different varieties fare.

For now, lettuce say, "Farewell."

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