Friday, February 1, 2013

Weekend Gardening: Lettuce

   As January makes it's presence known, many southern gardeners know that the garden season has crept up on us. Already seedlings need to be purchased and planted before our soil temps get too warm. The problem for me has always been timing and type. Lettuce planted too late yields a peppery, often bitter taste, while planting the wrong type of lettuce can bring frustrated results. It has taken me many a cried over garden row to come to a place where lettuce works for me.
   First key to lettuce in my garden is timing. This tender green prefers cool soil ranging from 60 to 65 degrees. Well, hello..that temp doesn't hang around here often. While needing cooler soil is an issue, we can work the system a bit with well composted soil and using drip irrigation and row covers. These won't give me lettuce in the heat of summer, but they will extend my lettuce season a bit longer than not using them.
   The second key in the lettuce leaf is type. Iceberg and romaine heads may grow bountifully in the northern climates, but let me share from experience..they fail miserably here. Many a seed company (and local chain store) waits to prey on the gardener unaware; believe me I have been one. Instead, it is important to find reliable sources tuned into the southern climate we live in and be aware of the lettuce varieties well adapted to our soil and heat.

     The bare facts:
     Direct seed in well drained soil between January 1 and March 1. (Temps ranging from 40 to 70)
     Small plot succession planting recommended.
     Common Southern Varieties:
     Black Seeded Simpson- leaf
     Royal oakleaf, red or green- leaf
     Deer tongue- hearty leaf
     Buttercrunch- soft head
     Mesclun- leaf mix
     To curb bitter tendencies place fresh cut lettuce in fridge 2-3 days before eating.

 My personal seed resource favorites are Producer's Co-op, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Territorial Seed.
***please note I am no longer using Territorial Seed as a source due to their affiliation with GMO seed.

 If you intend to save seed, be sure to plant open pollinated/heirloom varieties allowing the strong plants to develop their flower head. Once ripe seed pots are present, gather them in paper bags crushing gently to release the seed. Store seeds in a cool dry place for up to a year. Often lettuces will direct reseed themselves
right in the garden.

 Now, let's get growing!



Michelle said...

We get to enjoy lettuce from Oct. to May because of the cool weather here. When it starts to go bitter that's when It becomes feed for my chickens.

Clint Baker said...

Yummy! I can't wait for the snow to lift to grow some!

Simply Scaife Family said...

My bitter lettuce goes to the hens as well- although the goats do manage a few leaves. Clint, I remember my grandmother saying that very thing..but no snow here. Our weather has not left the daytime 70-80s for more than a few days this winter.