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.

 

Review of the Organic Broadcaster, and Bug Tracks

Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES
Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

Maybe you are not getting a chance for any agricultural summer reading, but I’ve been lucky enough to have some time off, while the crew took care of everything. I recently discovered the Organic Broadcaster, newspaper of MOSES, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. This magazine is a free digital or print bi-monthly. You can subscribe here.  You can also make a donation or post an ad, which will help the paper stay afloat.

Although I don’t live in the Midwest, I really appreciate this publication. It’s an 11 x 17″ 24-page newspaper, with a board of directors drawn from Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Unlike many East Coast organic publications, this one includes information from farmers growing grains and raising livestock.

The articles are in-depth and substantial, and there are also news briefs, classified ads and an events calendar. The display ads are from businesses relevant to sustainable farming.

The July/August issue is packed with at least 12 articles. It includes (what I think are) regular pages: Ask a MOSES Expert (this time: setting a reasonable rent for grazing land); Book Review (this time The Small Scale Dairy by Gianaclis Caldwell); news from the Rural Women’s Project.

In the summer issue, the other articles included: Non-GMO farmers caught in the crossfire on herbicide-resistant weeds; Financial analysis showing the demand for grass-fed beef is growing; Discussion on the Organic status of hydroponically-grown crops; Using heat generated by a composting process to heat tanks of water and using that stored heat for  hoophouse (high tunnel) beds through a cold snap; Seven lessons in farm diversification; Research exploring the benefits of using cover crop mixes; Marketing your farm brand; Collaborative Farming (new farmers helping each other at Sandbox Co-operative, a 50 acre incubator farm – see them on You Tube); Prevention and sustainable controls for external parasites of livestock; Keeping useful farm records; and a study comparing soil health under organic and non-organic systems.

The News Briefs section contains info on field days, MOSES book sales, and sales of audio recordings from the previous MOSES conference, links to useful organizations, legal guides, funding and resources. Altogether a very valuable resource.


 

Bug Tracks blog
Bug Tracks blog

Another discovery while I indulged in summer gardening reading was the blog Bug Tracks. It has the subtitle Bringing glory to Earth’s small and neglected creatures. Charley Eiseman writes this blog and takes the splendid photos. He is a freelance naturalist based in western Massachusetts.If you have a mystery insect, you can send him a photo to see if he can identify it. Or you can look at pictures  of bugs that have mystified him, and see if you can identify those, if you’re very good! He has a Monthly Mystery series.

We’ve just had National Moth Week, and Charley’s current post has pictures of moths.

book_cover_awardCharley Eiseman has also written a book, Tracks & Signs of Insects. “The first-ever reference to the sign left by insects and other North American invertebrates includes descriptions and almost 1,000 color photos of tracks, egg cases, nests, feeding signs, galls, webs, burrows, and signs of predation.”

He’s now working on another book, this one on North American leaf-mining insects.

And I’m back at work, hoeing lettuce and setting up irrigation.