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.
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.