Lettuce for March and all year

Bronze Arrow lettuce is a beautiful and tasty early spring variety.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We’re continuing to have enough lettuce. We have pulled the first baby lettuce mix in our hoophouse, and have started pulling some heads in there.  Of course, we want to harvest the hoophouse head lettuce before it gets too bitter, but we also don’t want to get too far ahead with the harvesting and run out! Our second baby lettuce mix is now ready for cutting, and the third sowing is not far behind.

March 9 is our goal for a transplanting date outdoors for our first 120 heads of lettuce (about one week’s worth for 100 people). We sow four varieties each time, some green, some red, different shapes and textures, different numbers of days to maturity. This way we hope to have a constant supply, and hedge our bets if something goes wrong with one variety.

In our first sowing we have Parris Island green romaine, Buttercrunch green bibb, and Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, a very red leaf lettuce, as well as Bronze Arrow, shown above. Our second sowing includes Cosmo, another green romaine, Star Fighter, which I wrote about last June, Oscarde, a red wavy leaf lettuce and one of our work-horses, Red Salad Bowl. Our third sowing has Panisse, a green wavy-leafed variety, Revolution, a red leaf lettuce, Swordleaf, which I wrote about last spring, and green Salad Bowl.

Ezrilla Tango-type one-cut multileaf type lettuce
Photo High Mowing Seeds

Buckley red oakleaf one-cut multi-leaf lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds

Our fourth sowing includes New Red Fire and three Eazyleaf lettuces ( Ezrilla, Hampton and Buckley) sold by High Mowing Seeds. We are simply trying these out this spring, to find out if we want to grow them next winter. In our climate these are unlikely to stand for long in the spring, and much more likely to grow well in our hoophouse in winter.

 

Hampton one-cut multi-leaf lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds

These are varieties that produce lots of small leaves (no big leaves) enabling growers to get an instant salad by cutting a whole head. We are more likely to harvest them multiple times, taking some leaves each time. It’s exciting to see more lettuces of this type on the market. I wrote previously about Osborne’s Multileaf lettuces and Johnny’s Salanova varieties.

Here’s a link to our Lettuce Log, our schedule of lettuce planting and harvesting dates, that provides a succession of outdoor lettuce from April to November:

http://file:///X:/GARDEN/Planning/Lettuce%20Log%202017%20in%20Htm.htm

Gardening is not all about lettuce! We have sowed two beds of carrots outside and also a bed of turnips (Purple Top White and White Egg), with a row of radishes to pull before the turnips need the space. And we are still “recovering” from transplanting 3600 spinach plants. They are all doing well, despite my mix-up about which varieties were intended to be planted in which bed. We are comparing three varieties this spring: Tyee, Avon and Reflect.

Purple Top White Turnips.
Photo Small Farm Central

White Egg Turnips.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Lettuce in February, Growing for Market, open seed flats

Baby lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We still have plenty of lettuce to eat, although our first sowing of baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse has come to its bitter end, and the second sowing isn’t quite ready (I think we sowed it a bit later than intended). We are still harvesting leaves from the large lettuce we transplanted in October.  Soon we’ll have the second and third baby lettuce mix sowings to bring a welcome change. We are about ready to transplant our first outdoor lettuce, to feed us mid-late April.

Here is a month-by-month planting and harvesting narrative for our hoophouse lettuce in Zone 7, from September to April:

September: Sow cold-hardy varieties in the second and third weeks (outdoors or in your greenhouse) to transplant into the hoophouse at 4 weeks old .

October: 4 weeks after sowing, transplant those lettuces at 8” spacing to harvest leaves from mid-November to early March, rather than heads. In late October, sow the first baby lettuce mix, for up to 8 cuts from early December to late February, and sow a small patch of “filler lettuces” to replace casualties in the main plantings up until the end of December.

November: 11/9 sow more filler lettuce, to be planted out in the hoophouse during January. Transplant the first “filler lettuce” to replace casualties. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce.

December: Use the “filler lettuce #1” to replace casualties or fill other hoophouse space, for lettuce leaves in January and February, or heads in February. At the end of December, make a second sowing of baby lettuce mix, to harvest from late February to the end of March. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix.

January: Use the “filler lettuce #2” to fill gaps in the lettuce beds up until January 25. After that is too late here for hoophouse lettuce planting, and we use spinach to fill all the gaps, regardless of the surrounding crop. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches the right size.

February: 2/1 sow the third baby lettuce mix, to provide up to three cuts, from mid-March to late April. In mid-February, consider a fourth sowing of baby lettuce mix, if outdoor conditions look likely to delay outdoor harvests. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Harvest the first baby lettuce mix, clearing it at the end of February before it gets bitter.

March: Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches size. Cut the third baby lettuce mix when it sizes up.

April: In the first half of the month, harvest the last of the transplanted lettuce as heads . Continue to cut the third baby lettuce mix until it gets bitter. Cut the fourth baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Outdoor lettuce heads are usually ready for harvest mid-April. Plan to have enough hoophouse harvests until the outdoor harvests can take over.

Lettuce transplants in soil blocks, on our custom-made cart. We don’t use soil blocks for lettuce any more (too time-consuming!) but I love this photo. Photo Pam Dawling


The February issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article How to decide which crops to grow which I previewed some of here last August. I also included some of the material in my slideshow Diversify Your Vegetable Crops. Click the link to see the slideshow. This past winter we used this kind of process to reduce the amount of garden work for 2017. I’m retiring from garden management and the new managers  want to stay sane and not be exhausted all the time. We have fewer workers this year (the past few years actually), so we needed to slim down the garden and not go crazy trying to do everything we’ve done in the past. I’ll still be working in the hoophouse, the greenhouse, and doing some outdoor work, as well as being available to answer questions and provide some training when asked.

Back to Growing for Market. There’s a great article for new small-scale growers, from Katherine Cresswell in northern Idaho, Year One Decision Making, about starting a farm with only one implement. Careful planning lead Katherine and her partner Spencer to focus on fall, winter and spring vegetables, as no-one else around them provided these, and they had experience of winter growing from working on other farms. Clearly a high tunnel (hoophouse) needed to be in the plan. It was essential that they hit the ground running and have saleable produce within six months. The expense budget was very tight. They bought a BCS 739 walk-behind tractor (which they both had experience of) and a rotary plow. A very down-to-earth article to encourage any new grower with limited means.

There are reviews of three new books by GfM writers: Compact Farms by Josh Volk, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden and The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Growers Handbook by Andrew Mefferd, the editor of GfM. Brett Grohsgal has written a valuable article about his 15 years experience with on-farm breeding of winter-hardy vegetables, both in the field and under protection of hoophouses. Informative and inspiring. Erin Benzakein has written about rudbeckias, the unsung heroes of summer bouquets, and Gretel Adams has written on new flower varieties to try in 2017.


I have a new post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings Easily – How to make reusable wood flats (seed trays) for seedlings, and use them to grow sturdy vegetable starts to transplant into your garden. This is a way to avoid contributing to the problem of agricultural plastic trash and be self-reliant in gardening equipment. You can also grow stronger plants by giving them a larger compost volume than plug flats or cell packs provide.

Open flat of broccoli seedlings.
Photo Wren Vile

I heard that my MEN blogpost Green Potato Myths and 10 Steps to Safe Potato Eating was very popular in January, coming sixth in their table of most-viewed posts on all topics. This has been out there in the blog-iverse for almost 18 months, so clearly there is a lot of concern about eating healthy food and not wasting what we’ve grown.

Sorting potatoes two weeks after harvest to remove problem potatoes before rot spreads.
Photo Wren Vile


The false spring has been barreling along. Last week I reported that we’ve seen a flowering crocus (2/17). Since then, we’ve seen daffodils and dandelions flowering, heard spring peppers and already the maple is flowering (2/25). These are all markers on our phenology list. The maple flowers on average 3/12, with a range (before this year) of 2/28 in 2012 to 4/2 in 2014. A 9-year record broken!

Lettuce Varieties for 2017

We’ve just updated our Lettuce Varieties List for 2017, removing ones that didn’t do well last year, highlighting ones that did do well, and checking which dates work for which varieties in our climate (central Virginia, cold-hardiness zone 7).

I tried to paste in the list, but failed (I know I’ve done it successfully before!) so here’s a link and some photos

Lettuce Varieties

Reliable Red Salad Bowl lettuce, one of our stand-bys.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Young Parris Island romaine lettuce.
photo Bridget Aleshire

Lollo Di Vino lettuce, developed by Wild Garden Seeds. Photo by https://www.wildgardenseed.com

Merlot red lettuce, from Wild Garden Seeds. Photo by https://www.wildgardenseed.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I posted my Lettuce Varieties for January article, Wanda commented on the great varieties available from Frank Morton at wildgardenseeds.com. They do have some wonderful lettuces, so I’ve included a couple of pictures of their varieties  that we grow, above.


I’m short of time today, I’m getting ready for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference. Check out my Events page for more about what I’m doing there. Two brand new workshops, and book signing. I hope to see some of you bringing your dog-eared and mud-splattered copies of Sustainable Market Farming for signing on Thursday evening. I’d love some photos of well-used copies of my book!

Lettuce varieties for January, new year, fresh start

Newly germinated lettuce seedlings. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Newly germinated lettuce seedlings.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Maybe you aren’t ready to think about sowing lettuce, but I am! In mid-January we sow a flat of four lettuce varieties, to become our first outdoor transplants. I like to choose four varieties that cover the range of colors and shapes.

Buttercrunch bibb lettuce. Photo Kathleen Slattery

Buttercrunch bibb lettuce. Photo Kathleen Slattery

I also like to choose hardy types that are fast-maturing. Buttercrunch green bibb lettuce is one of my favorites for early spring. One of the Salad Bowl lettuces, red or green, is also usually in my first sowing. The Salad Bowls are so reliable and productive!

Young Salad Bowl lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Young Salad Bowl lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

New Red Fire has become another reliable lettuce stand-by for us. It was suggested to me by neighboring Virginia farmer, Gary Scott of Twin Springs Farm. It is more of a leaf lettuce, and doesn’t really head up, although it can be cut as admittedly lightweight heads. And it works fine as a leaf lettuce, to be harvested by the cut-and-come-again method. We grow New Red Fire year round, it’s that adaptable and easy-going.

New Red Fire lettuce. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

New Red Fire lettuce.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

After last year’s success with Sword Leaf lettuce, which I wrote about last May, we have added this variety to our list of favorite lettuce varieties. But if I start those four, I won’t have a romaine and will have only one red. We haven’t found many good full-size red romaines. Rouge d’hiver is a possibility, although I wonder if it would bolt too easily (it’s more famous for growing in winter). A better choice might be Bronze Arrow (it worked well last year and we were harvesting it in early May).

We expect/intend/plan to start harvesting heads of lettuce outdoors starting 4/15. Before that we will harvesting the lettuce in the greenhouse and the hoophouse.

As you see from the top photo, we grow our outdoor lettuce as bare root transplants, starting in open flats. I’ll write about bare root transplants next week. We find it an easy, forgiving method for many crops.  For now, I’ll just talk about the lettuce. We sow in 3″ deep open wood seed flats, 12″ x 24″. We make four little furrows by pressing a 12″ plastic strip (aka a ruler!) into the seed compost. We sow the seed, label it, cover it lightly, water, then put the seeded flats in our germinator cabinet. The first flat of the year takes about 9 days to germinate. According to tables in Nancy Bubel’s Seed Starter Handbook and in Knott’s Vegetable Growers’ Handbook available free online as a pdf here, lettuce takes 7 days to germinate with a soil temperature of 50F (10C) or 15 days at 41F (5C), and only 4 days at 59F (15C).

Once the seedlings are big enough to handle, we spot them out into 4″ deep flats (also 12″ x 24″). We have a plywood dibble board with pegs evenly spaced about 2.5″ apart. You can see the offset pattern in this next photo:

Lettuce seedlings spotted out into deep flats. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Lettuce seedlings spotted out into deep flats.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We aim to harden off the lettuce for two weeks in the cold frame before transplanting into the garden beds with thick rowcover on hoops to protect the lettuce from the still-cold outdoors. To be ready for harvest 4/15, these seeds have to become full size lettuces in 88 chilly days.

We make a second sowing on 1/31. The intervals between sowings at the beginning of the year are long, because later sowings will to some extent catch up with earlier ones. Almost all crops grow faster in warmer weather (up to a point). We sow lettuce twice in February (every 14 days), then every 10 days in March, reducing the interval down to every 6 or 7 days by the summer.

As far as varieties go, we think of The Lettuce Year as having 5 seasons: Early Spring January – March, Spring April 1 – May 15, Summer May 15 – Aug 15, fall August 15 – September 7 and Winter September 8 till the end of September and our break from sowing lettuce.

Some of the early spring lettuce varieties will bolt prematurely here if sown after March 31. Examples include Bronze Arrow, Freckles, Merlot, Midnite Ruffles, Oscarde and Panisse.

Others that we like in early spring go on to be useful in spring too. All the ones mentioned as possibilities for sowing #1 are in this category, as are Green Forest, Parris Island, Kalura (three green romaines), Nancy and Sylvesta (two big green bibbs), Pirat (a red bibb), and Star Fighter (a green leaf lettuce)

Freckles lettuce has to be sown here before the end of March, or it bolts prematurely. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Freckles lettuce has to be sown here before the end of March, or it bolts prematurely.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Lettuce in December, events updates

Rouge d'Hiver hardy romaine lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Rouge d’Hiver hardy romaine lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Here’s my monthly article on lettuce varieties month-by-month. I wrote about Lettuce in November a month ago. Of course, at this dark and chilly time of year, plants don’t grow much and our lettuce story is very similar this month to last. Except that we have so much! We are harvesting our hoophouse lettuce mix as well as leaves from the big lettuces in the unheated greenhouse and the hoophouse.

In the unheated greenhouse, we have Green Forest romaine, Hyper Red Wave leaf lettuce, Red Tinged Winter leaf lettuce, Oscarde red leaf lettuce and North Pole bibb. all are looking well.

In the hoophouse in the first planting we have Green Forest, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave,  Oscarde, Panisse, Red Salad Bowl, Revolution, Star Fighter and Tango. In the second planting we have some of the same and some different ones: Green Forest, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Merlot, Panisse, Revolution, Red Tinged Winter, Salad Bowl, Star Fighter and Winter Wonderland. We are currently harvesting leaves from all the greenhouse and hoophouse lettuces in turn.

These are all looking well too, apart from a few Salad Bowl that have crashed with Sclerotinia Lettuce Drop, known “affectionately” to us as Solstice Slime. It happens at this time of year, around the Solstice – cold damp soil and the presence of spores of this widespread fungus cause destruction of the crown of the plant, which spreads to the leaves and causes the whole plant to collapse into a slimy beige lettuce pancake.

Sclerotinia Drop of lettuce. Photo http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r441100711.htmlSclerotinia Drop of lettuce.
Photo
http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r441100711.html

Here is a link to a helpful publication from eXtension: Disease Management in Organic Lettuce Production

Our approach is to try not to over-water in cold weather, and to carefully remove pancaked plants, just before leaving the hoophouse, throw them down-wind into the pasture, and then wash our hands before returning.

Other winter-hardy lettuce we have grown in other years include Marvel of Four Seasons, New Red Fire,  Pirat, and Rouge d’Hiver. There are hardy bibb lettuce too: North Pole, Red Cross, Sylvesta, and Winter Marvel, but we have stopped growing them in the winter hoophouse as they are not so useful for harvesting by the leaf and they are more prone to collecting dampness and getting diseased.

I’m sad about the poor showing of our Multileaf lettuces, due I think to keeping pelleted seed too long. My consolation is that we have three lettuce varieties that have a somewhat similar plant type (lots of small leaves that can be removed, letting more grow):  Oscarde, Panisse and Tango.

Oscarde letuce Photo Washiington State U Ag Research

Oscarde lettuce
Photo Washington State U Ag Research

Panisse lettuce. Photo Johnnys Seeds

Panisse lettuce.
Photo Johnnys Seeds

Tango lettuce Photo Kathryn Simmons

Tango lettuce
Photo Kathryn Simmons


I’ve been taking more bookings for speaking events and groups touring our gardens here. It’s looking promising for me to be at the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville (May 6-7) and Vermont (June 10-11). I’ve added in a visit here from the Tricycle Gardens group from Richmond on March 24 and one from the Louisa Master Gardeners on April 13. I’ll add info to my Events page (see the tab at the top of this page) as I get it.

I’ve got my slideshows and handouts ready for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference which is coming up in just a few weeks, January 10-11.

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Keep the Soil in Organic, Mother Earth News, winter reading

Photo from Dave Chapman, Organic Soil Movement

Photo from Dave Chapman, Keep the Soil in Organic

Did you know that nearly all the supermarket “organic” tomatoes are not grown in soil drawing the nutrients they need from the complex array in the soil, but in an inert material (rockwool, coir or plastic pipes with holes in), receiving as nutrients only what the growers provide in a solution that passes by the roots?

Did you know that your understanding of “organic” might be different from USDA’s? Driscoll’s Berries has over a thousand acres of “organic” hydroponic production in hoophouses in California and Mexico. They are the biggest hydroponic “organic” producer in the world.

Did you know that hydroponics is large-scale? Melody Meyers of UNFI testified at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that her company’s hydroponic “organic” sales exceeded $50,000,000. (Wholesale value – double it to get the retail value.)

Dave Chapman said

One of the challenges of the USDA takeover of organic certification has been the loss of involvement on the part of the organic farmers. As we have all struggled to make a living in a tough arena, it has been easy to give into a sense of helplessness around maintaining strong standards. At the same time that organic farmers have retreated from the process, the USDA has been profoundly influenced by large corporate farming interests.

Three quarters of US hydroponics sales go to only three or four farms – this is a huge concentration of money, power, and influence in a very few hands. And the industry is engaging in heavy lobbying, not just at NOSB, but throughout the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

How did this happen? How did “organic farming” change so drastically in six years? My report is based on Dave Chapman’s in his blog Keep the Soil in Organic.

In 2010, the NOSB recommended saying no to hydroponics receiving Organic Certification by a 14:1 vote, in keeping with international standards, the federal law (the Organic Foods Production Act, OFPA) that created the National Organic Program (NOP), and the traditional practices of organic farmers.

At the NOSB meeting in fall 2016, despite hydroponics industry lobbying, there was not enough support to vote to overturn the 2010 recommendation and allow hydroponics, aquaponics and bioponics. (This would have needed a 2/3 majority). Also, the proposal (from the Crops Subcommittee) that would have eliminated hydroponics in organic was sent back for reconsideration. The stalemate means that the NOP will continue to certify “organic” hydroponic operations.

Dave Chapman reported that

Food Democracy Now! presented a petition with over 12,000 signatures to reject hydroponics. Cornucopia Institute presented 1400 proxy letters from farmers and eaters demanding that soil stewardship be a requirement for organic certification. Clearly, the people numbers were on the side of the soil.

National Organic Program (NOP)  director Miles McEvoy stated at the meeting that even if the recommendation allowing hydroponics was defeated, it would not affect NOP policy. The NOP continues to support certifying hydroponics as USDA Organic even though the OFPA law requires Organic farming be based on maintaining and improving soil fertility. The NOP support of hydroponics is also in direct opposition to the 2010 NOSB recommendation, as well as standards in most other countries. Across the world, hydroponic operations are being USDA Organic certified.

A resolution  passed 12 to 0 reading, “It is the consensus of the NOSB to prohibit hydroponic systems that have an entirely water-based substrate.” (This refers to “plastic pipe” hydroponics as opposed to rockwool and coir which are imagined to provide something more than physical support.) This resolution does show consensus in rejecting the idea that hydroponic growing can become organic simply by “adding biology” to plain water, and provides a small glimmer of sanity and common sense. NOSB refused to acknowledge that actual hydroponic farming is not limited to plants that grow in water, but includes those propped up by rockwool and coir. The current hydroponics industry move is to avoid the “H word” and talk about “containerized ” plants – ones held in a small amount of material, but still being fertilized by solutions flowing by.

What makes a system hydroponic is how the fertility is delivered to the plant, not the material that the roots sit in. In a hydroponic system, the fertility is supplied to the plant in the irrigation water. There are so-called “organic” fertilizers that are extremely processed organic materials. For example, the 16-0-0 hydrolyzed soy protein being used in hydroponics acts like a synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. It has little similarity to unprocessed soy meal. In a genuinely organic system, the fertility results from the  complex soil food web interacting with organic materials we growers supply.

The companies speaking in support of hydroponics to the NOSB include Miracle Gro (chemical fertilizer company), Nature Gro (major supplier of substrates for conventional growers), the Organic Trade Association (lobbyists for the big hydroponic “organic” growers), Nature Sweet tomatoes (1400 acres of conventional greenhouses), Houweling’s Tomatoes (250 acres of conventional greenhouse tomatoes), and Driscoll’s (already mentioned).

These companies all want  to get in on the “Organic” market without doing the honest hard work. The food industry spends more money lobbying Capitol Hill each year than the defense industry does!

Know your farmer! Buy local, from trusted growers. Do what you can to speak up for real food, grown in the soil.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren

Weeding over-wintered spinach. Photo Wren Vile


I wrote about our winter lettuce (a summary of blog posts here) for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. You can read it here.

peerj-04-1582-g005Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden has had some interesting blog posts recently. One is about a recent study called “Arthropods of the Great Indoors: Characterizing Diversity Inside Urban and Suburban Homes,” and its lead author is Dr. Matthew Bertone. We are hosting an average of over 90 different arthropod types per home! I’ve noticed that we’ve accidentally brought camel crickets from our root cellar into our bathroom! I’ve been reducing their numbers. . .  They don’t appear to be in top 12 found in most people’s homes according to this article.

This post on Do Home Remedies for Weeds or Garden Pests Work? is a careful look at the options often recommended by others, with cautions about pouring lots of Epsom salts, vinegar, clove oil on your plants and soil.

Her Special Weed Issue has links to a lot of useful weed topics, as well as info on a  Baby Birds book with delightful-looking watercolors.

9780544206700_hres

 

Lettuce in November, Twin Oaks Garden blog

Red Salad Bowl lettuce.. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Red Salad Bowl lettuce..
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I have written blogposts about growing lettuce in October, September, August, July, June and May. On October 25, I reported that we have covered our last outdoor bed of head and leaf lettuce, and an “emergency” bed of baby lettuce mix with double hoops and rowcover. Now, one month later, we are waiting out this cold snap (19F/-7C last night) until we get a mild spell to uncover those beds and finish harvesting them. We want to move the hoops and row covers to the outdoor spinach beds.

We are now harvesting only winter salad mixes, no more big bowls just of lettuce. We are using leaves from the outdoor lettuce, the outdoor lettuce mix, or leaves from the lettuce in the greenhouse, according to whatever is most ready. We chop the lettuce up as we harvest. I start with about half of the harvest bucket full of chopped lettuce. I notice that it takes 3 half-buckets of harvested greens to fill one bucket! The greens settle, and when mixed they take less space than they started out using.

Late October Starfighter and Red Salad Bowl lettuce in our hoophouse. Photo Wren Vile

Late October Starfighter and Red Salad Bowl lettuce in our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

Lettuce varieties we are currently harvesting include Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, new Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Salad Bowl, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Star Fighter, Tango, Winter Marvel and Winter Wonderland. Last winter we grew some Osborne Multileaf varieties we liked a lot. This year I learned the hard way that pelleted seed doesn’t store well. As pointed out by Johnnys Seeds in their JSS Advantage Newsletter January 2012

“Some seeds, particularly lettuce, are primed before pelleting, which begins the metabolic process leading to germination. Because some of the early steps toward germination are completed before the seed is planted, germination happens more quickly. Germination times can be 50% faster with primed seed. When seeds germinate quickly, they may avoid potential problems including soil crusting, weeds, and soilborne diseases. On the down side, primed seed doesn’t have the same storage life as unprimed seeds, so we recommend that you purchase only enough for the current season.”

Bulls Blood Beet leaves Photo Bridget Aleshire

Bulls Blood Beet leaves
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I like to mix three crop families in every salad mix: lettuce, spinach/chard/beet greens/brassicas. I also like to mix the colors and textures, so if most of that day’s lettuce leaves are green, I’ll be sure to get some Bulls Blood beet leaves or Ruby Streaks or Scarlet Frills. I don’t make the same mix every day, as variety is the spice of life!

Ruby Streaks. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Ruby Streaks.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I love the taste of spinach leaves in salad, and we have lots of spinach (outdoors, in cold frames and in the hoophouse). I love the colors of baby Bright Lights and Rainbow chard. I chop those stems small – not everyone likes a big hit of chard flavor in their salad. When I harvest Bulls Blood beets I snip the stems close to the base of the plant, line up a handful of leaves, then snip off the stems just below the leaf blades, before chopping the leaves into the bucket. These stems are kind of wiry, not good food. I don’t like to leave the leaf stems on the plant for two reasons. One is that the stems “cage in” the developing plant, reducing the access to sunlight and photosynthesis. The other is that the stems die back later and rot. Better to remove them right away. I do the same with spinach.

Last month I mentioned the brassica salad mix we sowed in our hoophouse 10/2. We have made three cuts already – very good value for the tiny amount of space occupied. Mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Scarlet Frills and Golden Frills add a ferny shape and some loft to the mix. Mizuna is very mild, the other three are spicy. Other brassicas we are currently cutting small for our salad mixes include tatsoi and Russian kales (red and white). At some point, deeper in the winter, we’ll try to leave the kale alone to grow big for cooking greens. This will happen when we are shorter of cooking greens than salad items, and the kale has become more robust. Some of the crew are more hardcore than me, and include sturdier greens, like senposai. Later in the winter, other crops will come to the fore.

We also include as microgreens any thinnings from recently sowed rows of almost any greens, including radishes and turnips if they are not bristly-leaved varieties.

Traditional Chinese Scissors from Lee Valley

Traditional Chinese Scissors from Lee Valley

Our 10/24 hoophouse sowing of baby lettuce mix is almost ready to harvest – maybe in the next week or so. We have made an 11/2 second sowing of mizuna and friends, but the seedlings are still tiny, showing a big difference between the temperatures on 10/24 and those a week later on 11/2.

For cutting lettuce I like the plain steel scissors from Lee Valley. They are sturdy, easy to tighten and sharpen and ambidextrous. They are a traditional Chinese style.


Lastly, for those of you who want to know more about the Twin Oaks garden specifically, let me introduce you to the Twin Oaks Garden blog. It’s written by Wren Vile, one of the upcoming managers. I will be retiring as garden manager on March 1 2017, and Wren and Brittany will take over the day-to-day running of the garden. I won’t be going away, I’ll be around to answer questions, and I will continue to do some work in the garden, around the “edges”, rather than in the thick of the shifts. I’ll have more time for my writing and speaking on vegetable growing, and I’ll have more time off!

Brittany resting in the potato rows. Photo Wren Vile, https://twinoaksgarden.wordpress.com/

Brittany resting in the potato rows.
Photo Wren Vile, https://twinoaksgarden.wordpress.com/

Lettuce growing in October

 

Outredgeous lettuce at an adolescent stage. Photo

Cold-hardy Outredgeous lettuce at an adolescent stage.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We’re just about to get our first real frost, and our lettuce planting has moved indoors, while our lettuce harvesting is straddling outdoors and indoors. As I reported in September, we had cutworms eating our outdoor lettuce seedlings. We sowed (and resowed on 9/16) some outdoor baby lettuce mix to play catch-up and help feed us salads until the hoophouse lettuce are ready. Yesterday, day 38 since sowing, we cut our first lettuce mix. We could have started a few days earlier. We have had a warm spell, which helped them grow faster. Because we usually only grow lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse and hadn’t planned to sow the mix outdoors, we didn’t have enough “official” lettuce mix seed. I simply made a mix of seasonally appropriate leftover fall varieties that we wouldn’t need for the second hoophouse sowing on 9/24.

Lettuce mix seedlings Photo Ethan Hirsh

Lettuce mix seedlings
Photo Ethan Hirsh

For those unfamiliar with baby lettuce mix, this is a cut-and-come-again crop. We like Fedco’s 2981LO Lettuce Mix OG or Johnny’s Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix #2310. For those with challenging growing conditions, both companies offer other specialized selected mixes. 1 ounce of seed sows about 600 ft, and you can sow rows 4″ (10 cm) apart. Here’s how we grow baby lettuce mix: We weed and thin to 1″ as soon as we can see the seedlings well enough to do so. Once the plants are 3-4″ tall, we cut them about an inch above the soil, with large scissors or shears. I usually gather a small handful with my left hand, cut with my right. After putting the harvested leaves in a crate or bucket, I weed the just-cut area so that there won’t be weeds in the next cut. I have also read the recommendation to rake over the rows after harvest with a fine leaf rake to remove outer leaves and cut scraps. If you want to make more than one cut, you will need to remove anything that isn’t top quality salad while you can see it.

Yesterday, as well as the baby lettuce mix, we made up our salad mix with spinach which we had sowed in the hoophouse 9/7, and brassica salad mix sown in there 10/2 (which was already plenty big enough to harvest after only 20 days. The brassica seed mix was put together by us, and was high in mizuna, I noticed.

Greenhouse with young Lettuce transplants in early October. Photo Wren Vile

Greenhouse with young lettuce transplants in early October.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Before the weekend, we were making salad mixes using spinach from our cold frames sown on 9/8. The leaves had grown very big, helped by having drip irrigation and cinder block walls as well as a slight southward slope to the soil in the cold frame, as recommended by Eliot Coleman. We added lettuce leaves from the plants in our greenhouse, which were sown in early to mid-September and transplanted in there early October. We will keep these plants alive all winter, just harvesting leaves. When we need the greenhouse space for seedlings at the end of January, we ‘ll start clearing the lettuce.

Our home made double hoop system for holding row cover in cold windy weather. Image (c) Pam Dawling

Our home made double hoop system for holding row cover in cold windy weather.
Image (c) Pam Dawling

We’ve covered our outdoor lettuce mix and our last bed of leaf lettuce (still waiting for it to get to harvestable size) with row cover on double hoops. We roll the long edges of row cover between hoops on to reject hammock spreader bars. They are about 5 ft long, and by setting the hoops about 6 ft apart we have the right amount of space to comfortably roll the edges under. Having the row cover nice and taut over the hoops not only helps it stay in place, but also holds the row cover above the leaves and makes the likelihood of bits of row cover in your lettuce unlikely.

That’s the round-up on what salad we’re harvesting in October and how. Now on to this month’s planting. I already mentioned transplanting lettuce into our greenhouse. In September’s lettuce article I listed the varieties we sow for the greenhouse and the hoophouse. This month we have been transplanting those into the hoophouse. On 10/15 we transplanted the first sowing (9/15), about 230 plants at 10″ spacing in 4 rows in a 48 ft length of bed (half the length of our hoophouse). We expect to harvest leaves from these from 11/16 all the way to 3/1. Today (10/25) we are transplanting our second sowing (9/24), a similar sized planting. We hope to harvest from these from December to mid-April. We plan to start harvesting our outdoor lettuce heads from 4/15.

We have also just sown our first lettuce mix in our hoophouse (10/24). 10 rows 4.5 inches apart, 30 ft long. That will give us a lot of lettuce! We’ll get our first cut somewhere in the 12/5-12/22 range and might even get as many as 8 cuts during the winter. It will get bitter and need to be pulled 2/26-3/15. We’ll have some later sowings to take over before that happens.

We have also just sowed some “lettuce filler” in our hoophouse. This is a small are of a few crosswise rows of the varieties we have sown to grow full-size. We’ll use the fillers to replace casualties.or if we don’t have any casualties, we ‘ll use the rows as baby cutting lettuce like our intentional baby lettuce mix.

Where we're headed: Winter hoophouse lettuce Photo Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re headed: Winter hoophouse lettuce
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Lettuce in September, Bean borers,

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

September is a month of change, when it comes to lettuce. We sow and transplant a lot of lettuce. The September 1 sowing is number 34 in our annual series, which runs to number 46 on September 27.

When to sow to eat lettuce in September

In September we are normally eating lettuce which we sowed from late June to mid-July. That’s a tough time for growing lettuce here, and this year was tougher than usual. We got fine seedlings up, but then they were mowed down by cutworms lurking under the shadecloth. We started new sowings in flats, up off the ground on a frame. We tried sowing baby lettuce mix to feed us during the gap. Although we sowed it in a cooler spell, it didn’t come up. We just resowed on 9/16. Now we are having a deluge – of rain, not of lettuce!

Sowing lettuce in September

From September 1-21 we sow head lettuce every 2 days. This is because the rate of growth will slow down when the weather cools, and the harvest dates of those sowings will spread out. They will all feed us through to the spring, if we protect them from cold temperatures. Before we got our hoophouse, we grew lettuce outdoors through the winter under double rowcover. It did stay alive, but we couldn’t harvest very often. Rowcover will provide a temperature gain of 4–6 degrees F (2.2–3.3 degrees C), depending on the thickness. It also reduces light transmission and airflow, but the trade-off can be very worthwhile. Lettuce can survive an occasional dip to 10°F (–12°C) with good rowcover outdoors — but not 8°F (–13°C), as I’ve seen! Adolescent lettuce are more cold-hardy than full-sized plants.

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting. Photo Wren Vile

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting.
Photo Wren Vile

Sowings in the first week of September are for planting in cold frames in central Virginia. These days we have switched to growing spinach all winter in our cold frames, rather than continue these lettuce plantings. We get better value from spinach. It grows faster than the outdoor (rowcovered) spinach, but slower than our hoophouse spinach.This means that after the last sowing for transplanting outdoors, on August 29, we get a short break on lettuce sowing.

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We resume with number 38 on September 9. The sowings from 9/9 to 9/17 will be transplanted in our greenhouse. We also sow on 9/15 and 9/24 to transplant into our hoophouse. The sowings from 9/19-9/27 are “insurance plantings” in case something goes wrong with an earlier [planting, or we don’t get the greenhouse beds refilled with compost soon enough, and want smaller plants.

Lettuce varieties to plant in September.

From September 1-7, (the coldframe ones we used to grow), we use cold-hardy varieties Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Pablo, Red Salad Bowl, Salad Bowl, Winter Marvel (a Bibb) and Winter Wonderland (Romaine). Pablo is a hold-over from the summer Batavian lettuces. (Heat-tolerant varieties also tolerate cold.) There are also specialized cold-hardy varieties that do not tolerate heat (because they have a relatively low water content). Sow these in fall and winter only.

Salad Bowl Lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Salad Bowl Lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The salad bowls do fine in the greenhouse and the hoophouse, although I remember they are not cold-hardy enough for growing outdoors here. During the winter we will be harvesting lettuce by the leaf, rather than cutting heads. Green Forest, Kalura and Winter Wonderland are romaines that do well in the winter for us. Note that we don’t grow butterhead lettuce (bibbs) after the end of August.

Once we reach September 8, we are sowing lettuce for planting in the (unheated) greenhouse. We use Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Kalura, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Salad Bowl, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango and Winter Wonderland.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

For the hoophouse winter lettuce, we sow Osborne multileaf lettuce types (Multigreen 57, Multired 4, Multired 54), Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Tango, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Salad Bowl, Winter Wonderland Romaine. For the second sowing on 9/24, we use Include all the same ones except Oscarde, which has given us trouble in the past when started that late.

Small and medium-sized plants of Marvel of Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density, and Tango can take 15F (-9.5C). I’ve seen some small unprotected lettuces survive down to 5F (-15C) – Winter Marvel, Tango, North Pole, Green Forest. Other particularly cold-hardy lettuce varieties include Brune d’Hiver, Cocarde, Esmeralda (a bibb),  Lollo Rossa, North Pole (bibb), Outredgeous, Rossimo, Sunfire and Vulcan.

I’ll address winter lettuce in some future post.

Cultivating winter lettuce in the hoophouse. photo McCune Porter.

Bean Borers

I enjoy Charley Eiseman’s blog Bug Tracks, even though I’m nowhere near in his league of paying attention to insects. It’s inspiring to read his posts! This week he wrote about Gray Hairstreak caterpillars as bean borers.

 

Batavian lettuces for August

Cherokee Red Batavian lettuce sowed in August. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Cherokee Red Batavian lettuce sowed in August.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

This is the hardest time of year for growing lettuce in our part of the world. Lettuce seed needs temperatures below 86F (30C) to germinate. That’s the highest soil temperature that lettuce seed is viable at. Higher than that and heat dormancy sets in. It takes 2.6 days at 86F (30C), which is longer than the 2.2 days at 77F (25C), and equals the time it takes at 68F (20C). Naturally, because these are average figures, varieties vary in their ability to germinate at high temperatures. You’ll want to choose heat tolerant varieties anyway, or they will just bolt (grow up to flower and seed) rather than form a head. Among the heat tolerant ones, the romaine Jericho and the Batavians are best able to germinate at high temperatures.

Cherokee is our new favorite among the Batavians, because of its wonderful dark red color. All Batavians have relatively thick juicy, crunchy leaves, and a heavy head. Our old favorite Pablo, is green tinged with red. (This photo and the Cherokee are of half-grown lettuces, not full-size). Pablo is available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Pablo Batavian lettuce Photo Nina Gentle

Pablo Batavian lettuce
Photo Nina Gentle

Cardinale Batavian lettuce. Photo Swallowtail Garden Seeds

Cardinale Batavian lettuce.
Photo Swallowtail Garden Seeds

Cardinale is redder than Pablo, but less so than Cherokee. Swallowtail Garden Seeds has a selection of seven Batavian lettuces (also called summer crisp lettuces), including Cardinale and a couple I have not tried (Red Ball Jets and Jester).

 

Carioca Batavian lettuce. Credit Johnnys Seeds

Carioca Batavian lettuce.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

Carioca is another red on green, less red than green. It was sold by Johnnys, but is now available from Restoration Seeds

 

Magenta Batavian lettuce. Photo Johnnys Seeds

Magenta Batavian lettuce.
Photo Johnnys Seeds

 

 

 

Magenta is another darker red Batavian lettuce, sold by Johnnys.

Young Sierra lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Young Sierra lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Sierra Batavian lettuce. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Sierra Batavian lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Among the greener Batavians, we like Sierra from Southern Exposure who rate Sierra as taking 54 days. “Open-headed batavian crisphead with excellent resistance to bottom rot and tip-burn. Leaves are glossy green with reddish veins. Grows in open fashion at first, forming a compact head at maturity. Very tasty, crisp, and juicy. Holds well under high heat.”

Nevada Batavian lettuce. Photo Swallowtail Garden Seeds

Nevada Batavian lettuce.
Photo Swallowtail Garden Seeds

Nevada is an all-green Batavian we really like. It’s available from Swallowtail Garden Seeds who note “outstanding, juicy nutty flavor – it is among the best tasting of all lettuces”

Concept Batavian lettuce Photo Johnnys Seeds

Concept Batavian lettuce
Photo Johnnys Seeds

Concept is another green Batavian that has done well for us. It’s available from Johnnys,  Swallowtail Garden Seeds Like several of the Batavians, at an adolescent stage the head is open, but at maturity it whorls around and closes up.

Loma Batavian lettuce. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Loma Batavian lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Loma from SESE is a smaller, dense, fast-growing spiky-leaved Batavian. This is one of the varieties I choose when I am a day or two late sowing, and I want fast-growing varieties to make up for my slackness. Ready in 49 days.

Muir Batavian lettuce. Photo Johnnys Seeds

Muir Batavian lettuce.
Photo Johnnys Seeds

We also grow Muir, from Johnnys, who say “the slowest to bolt in our summer trials. . . .  the light green, extra wavy leaves form dense heads at a small size and can be harvested as a mini or left to bulk up into large, heavy, full-size heads.”

Mottistone spotted Batavian letuce. Photo Johnnys Seeds

Mottistone spotted Batavian letuce.
Photo Johnnys Seeds

Another less-typical Batavian is the spotted Mottistone, also from Johnnys. We used to grow this one, but there’s something about spotted lettuce in the summer that just didn’t appeal to people. They thought it was diseased, rather than fancy! it does have good flavor.

Anuenue Bataviasn letuce. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Anuenue Batavian lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Anuenue, from SESE comes from the University of Hawaii. Anuenue is Hawaiian for “rainbow” (pronounced “ah-nu-ee-nu-ee”).] The seed is able to germinate at higher soil temperatures. We like this one (which is more like icebergs than the other Batavians are) as a change from our old reliables.

 

Lettuce seedbed. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Lettuce seedbed.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

And now, back to how we actually get the lettuce seed to grow in summer. We use an outdoor nursery seedbed, sow the seeds at the end of the day, as temperatures drop, water with cold water, line up ice cubes on the soil covering the seeds, cover the seedbed with shade cloth, and then water daily with fresh-drawn cold water until we get germination. Sunflowers provide shade but also suck up a lot of water, so don’t get too close. Sheep sculptures are optional.