Monday, 12 July 2010

Continous lettuce harvests

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Lettuce is one of the ubiquitous garden vegetables that everyone is familiar with, and rightly so since it is available in so many colors, shapes, and flavors. Just a quick look at a seed catalog will astound you with the range available. Lettuce has a reputation for being easy to grow and I have to agree, but after growing many varieties for mesclun sales, we had to find an array that would allow us to harvest for 8 months of the year. And even with all the more pungent greens available, when you want lettuce there is no substitute.

volunteer lettuce in the garden.

While everyone probably agrees that lettuce isn't hard to grow during the spring and fall, the hot dry days of summer present a different challenge if you are to have salads every day or at least several times a week.

Continuously picked lettuce looks a little ragged but keeps producing for a longer season.

There are several key points to summer lettuce:

1) Variety selection - look for the key words: slow to bolt, tolerates hot weather, also it helps to peruse seed catalogs for southern states. We had excellent luck with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seeds.

2) Romaines are very heat tolerant with their stiff ribs and thicker leaves. Our favorites are Parris Island, Jericho, Little Gem and Valmaine. Other heat tolerant leaf varieties that work well with our dry summers and scant irrigation are Anuenue, Simpson Elite, Red Sails, Oscarde, Thai Oakleaf, and Flashy Green Butter Oak to name a few.

3) Once the plants get large enough to harvest a few leaves, pick your salads by taking several leaves from each lettuce plant every few days. This sends a signal that the plant needs to keep growing and not set seed (bolt). This probably extends the harvest of your lettuce plantings by 3 weeks or many times much longer. If you wait until the entire head is harvestable, you risk the chance that a hot spell will stress out your plants and cause them to bolt.

4) And last but not least, practice successive plantings. I seed lettuce every 3 weeks in 6 packs, and plant out transplants. We eat huge salads, so I am planting 18 - 24 plants for 3 people, but you may get by with 6. It's easy to tend to a 6 pack or so, and you know exactly what you have to plant come planting time. Lettuce seeds like cool weather for germinating, so the controlled environment of starting them inside or on a cool porch works very well versus the hot summer sun and warm soil in the garden. When it is time to plant your transplants, evening is a good time, to give the plants a night to recover from the shock of transplanting.

New plantings coming on and almost big enough for a light harvest.

I hope these tips are useful, there is nothing better than a cool, refreshing summer salad!

8 comments: said...

I am loving my Jericho lettuce. Even with 100 degree days it's not even thinking of bolting! Now, true, it's not growing as quickly as it did, but it's still upright and hearty!

Kristi said...

What a timely post for us in the Northeast! I really appreciate you sharing your experience with heat tolerant lettuces. I've been thumbing through the catalogs, wondering which ones to order. I also eat salad almost everyday and my favorite Forellenschluss Romaine is all about to bolt. Thanks.

Paula said...

This is good to know, although I don't think I have any of these varieties. I just figured I'd be eating cole slaw, cucumber, and tomato salads all summer.

I did not know that pulling leaves off slows bolting- that's a new one for me.

As ever, I learn a ton from you!

Mr. H. said...

I have never thought of purchasing lettuce from southern state seed catalogs in order to get more bolt resistent varieties...thanks for the great tip. The oakleaf varieties seem to do best for us in the mid-summer heat.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Peggy, that is one amazing lettuce isn't it? Although with our rabbit explosion this year we have noticed the bunnies like romaine as much as us, their least favorite though are the dark reds like Merlot and Oscarde. We just scored some cats finally, and they are hunters although still a little small to venture to the gardens - soon someone (us or the cats will be eating Peter Rabbit.)

Kristi, oh my goodness, selling salad greens was a great OCD moment for me - my lettuce seed collection rivals my Fiestaware collection and it gets kind of embarrassing...

Succession planting is the way to go, if I can't find a place for my extras, I give them away or last resort they make excellent snack for the hens or pigs, at least I am not wasting them.

Paula, look at Wild Garden Seeds too - they are local and deal with our summers and their seeds really jump out of the ground they are so vigorous. We grew most of our greens for sale in the greenhouse, so they had to be heat tolerant.

Mr. H., I am glad we finally have a heat wave, although I would like it a little cooler for hauling hay...

I think our most productive oakleafs were Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl, they tolerated the hoophouse (roll-up side version) and went weeks with twice a week harvesting. Amazing!

Wendy said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experience; I struggle with this every year--especially during the summer and I never have enough lettuce. I'm looking forward to trying your tips!

Sense of Home said...

These tips were helpful. We have been eating a lot of salads from our garden lately. However, I don't care for the variety of lettuce I grew this year, not sure what it is but it wilts faster. I had an heirloom variety last year that was more like a romaine, I will be going back to that.

Florida Outdoor Hydroponics said...

Currently in Florida, it is waaay to hot to grow lettuce. But I do need to get some started for late summer/fall.

Im going to be growing my lettuce in an NFT hydroponic system I made with white pvc gutters from home depot. I've ran some test and everything seems to run smooth.

I hear you can grow a head of lettuce, from seed to harvest in only 35-45 days. I plan on picking it the same way, to see if I can get more from the plant :)

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to your future postings!