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!