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.
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.
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.
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.