Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lettuce Bed

My lettuce bed has been growing for a while now. I've been doing succession sowings inside every two weeks or so. I'm hardly exact about the timing. Life gets in the way and some sowing have been much later than others. I sow six little soil blocks each time with five varieties. The sixth is just in case one doesn't come up. Then I plant them all out in a row. They are all leaf lettuce since I find it really easy to grow and it can be picked old or young.

Chard on the left, lettuce on the right

They used to look pretty all lined up. Each one slightly bigger than the one before. Then I started picking. Today I picked two nice heads. Now there are huge gaps. Even if it doesn't look pretty anymore, the gaps are good. My lettuce is planted 8" apart and the heads can get way bigger than that. When they touch, I'm supposed to pick them and let the rest of them grow to full size. I'm not a lover of little lettuce. I like my lettuce to have texture and be big and crunchy.

For now picking has been easy. I had only three types of lettuce and they were all reddish types, but soon I'll be picking some of the green lettuce. Should I pick the red ones or the green ones?

Red Sails is my tried and true red lettuce. It isn't as pretty as my other reds. The center doesn't have the pretty rosette, but it has always been consistant. It grows well in the spring. It grows fast. It tastes good. It holds up in the heat of the summer better than any other lettuce I've tried. I could just grow this one and be happy, but I'm always looking for something better. If I could find a lettuce that holds up even through the hottest days of summer I would be happy. So this year I'm trialing a few more to see if they can do better.

Merveille de Quatre Saisons is probably the prettiest of my lettuces. It has stunning red leaves with bits of green showing through. The leaves are all scoop shaped. Although they are slightly wrinkled, the wrinkles don't take over and you can easily see the shape of each leaf. It doesn't grow as big or strongly as my other reds and the leaves don't have the substance of the others either. For me this is bad. I like my lettuce to crunch just a little more and it is a bit soft for my tastes. If it holds up in the summer it will still be a winner, otherwise I probably won't grow it again.

New Red Fire seems to be a dopleganger for my Red Sails except that it has a bit more form to the head. I love the pretty rosette it makes. It is also just a touch more red in the center. When the seedlings are young I can't tell them apart at all. Once they are full grown it is still a bit hard. They both taste about the same. I would be happy to grow either, but if this one can hold just a week longer, it will be the new favorite in the garden.

Australian Yellow Leaf is from Dan. It is supposed to be a slow bolting chartreuse lettuce. I used to grow Black Seeded Simpson which is also a slow bolting chartreuse. However it bolted rather quickly in my garden. I did love it for its striking color and AYL seem to be just as pretty. I love the bright color in the salads especially with my reds. I'm really rooting for this one. It is still a bit small to pick, but it is growing quite well and much better than BSS grew for me last year.

The last lettuce is the ugly step sister - Deer Tongue. It is fairly small growing and the leaves are plain green. I'm just waiting to taste it. I've never grown this kind of lettuce before. I always figured I wouldn't like it much because it would lack any crunch, but you never know. Since it was a gift from Dan, I just had to try it out and see what it is like.

The lettuce is really coming into its peak season so all the lettuce is growing fabulously. The real test will come in July as the weather heats up. Which one will bolt first? Of course bolting isn't the end of the world. I've joined the Seed to Seed Challenge this year and I'd love lettuce to be one of the seeds that I save. I won't save them all. I'll pick one variety this year so they won't cross. I may only save seeds from one plant. The genetics will lack diversity, but lettuce is self pollinating so I don't think it will be much of an issue. I don't have room in the garden to let a lot of lettuce go to seed - at least if I want to start eating lettuce again at the end of August, and I do. I love my salads.


  1. I have graduated from leaf harvesting to pulling the entire plant, too. Then wondering what on earth to put in the empty squares! I don't need any more beans, beets or carrots, it's too hot to plant radishes or cole crops, I have all the peppers and tomatoes I can handle (and more). I guess I leave them empty until July.

  2. Your lettuces are looking lovely especially the AYL. I just plant my AYL transplants when I put the chard in, can't wait to try it. Like yourself I like mature crunchy lettuce, not really a fan of those mushy baby greens that stick to your throat. I'm not sure what to think about the deer tongue, I ordered it because of its spiky mature shape. Time will tell if it tastes any good. I like the look of the Fire Red one, it is amazing the diversity of leaf lettuce.

  3. Annie's Granny, around here I just keep putting lettuce back in, but I wait until the whole row is harvested. For now the plants that are there will fill in the space. My plantings go in a wave across the bed then start again in the empty spots. But then we can grow lettuce almost all of the growing season. You might have hotter weather in the summer.

    Dan, it is amazingly diverse. I haven't even come close to getting all the types. But it is fun every year to try a new one. This year is fun since I have four new varieties to try. Usually I just pick one or two new ones.

  4. Wow, the color on Merveille de Quatre Saisons is amazing. How is the flavor? I don't mind lack of crunch, but it needs to taste good.

  5. Your lettuces are lovely, and they are making me hungry for a salad!

  6. Yum! Yum! Be sure to let us know how you like the Deer Tongue. I've been wondering how that one would do in the heat. My 4th or 5th sowing of lettuce (I forgot which number of sowing I'm on) is behind my peas, so they get shaded just enough to keep them nice, but not wilting every time I go out to the garden :). It is 'Red Sails'- a new variety for me- tried it based on your opinion of it! I do like it so far and am eager to see what happens in the real heat!

  7. Stacy, It really does take the prize in beauty for the lettuces that I'm growing. It would look wonderful in a mixed planting. I like the flavor a lot. It is just as good as the other reds. I really don't taste a lot of difference there. MQS has another strange aspect to it. It has a prickled ridge up the back along the stem of the leaf. It is strong enough to hurt a bit if you rub it the wrong way. I've never noticed an issue eating it though. It is just something I've never seen on a lettuce before.

    Kim, well it should be salad season out in Maryland too. I hope you have lettuce in your garden. My issue is that I see the Southern gardeners picking tomatoes and I so want a tomato on my salad. A real tomato, not the cardboard ones you find at the market.

    DirtDigger, I hope you like it. It has been my favorite for years. I keep trying to find something to supplant it, but not yet. I'll let you know about Deer Tongue and AYL after the first harvest.

  8. great photos! i think the ugly stepsister is lovely as well. (i'm new to i appreciate any plant that is alive and growing! =)