by Kathryn Courtney
I love gardening in the fall and winter. Our weather is usually wonderful, our bug population is not as
horrendous and our rain is much more regular. We don’t swelter in the summer heat and neither do the things we plant. Vegetable gardening is much more enjoyable in winter and there are lots of vegetables that like cooler weather. My personal favorite fall and winter veggie is lettuce. I absolutely love growing lettuce from seed. The combination of types and varieties of lettuce seeds provide endless combinations of taste and color. No grocery store lettuce can compare with home grown lettuce. No bland, pale iceberg lettuce for me in the winter. My front and back flower beds, containers, and vegetable garden are brimming with greens. Lettuce also makes a great annual edible border. I even have a few neighbors jumping on the edible landscaping bandwagon.
There are so many types of lettuce sometimes it’s hard to decide what to grow. Here is a list of lettuce types to help you make your choice:
1. Crisphead – forms a firm head with a crisp texture. Lettuce found in grocery stores.
2. Butterhead – Forms a tight rosette with a softer texture.
3. Looseleaf – forms a bunch instead of a head.Will resprout from a cut leaf.
4. Cos or Romaine – Upright lettuce with long, narrow leaves.
After you have chosen your seed there a 3 tricks to growing lettuce. The first requirement for lettuce seed is light. Lettuce seeds are photosensitive which means they need light to germinate. Make sure that the soil where you plant your seed is smooth and loose. I put an inch or two of earthworm castings or germinating mix on top of my soil to make a good base for my seeds. Press the seeds in the dirt so that they make good contact with the soil. Lightly cover the seeds with about 1/4 an inch of soil. Because lettuce seeds are small, using a seed sower to help you place your seeds can speed up this process. The second trick to know about lettuce seed germination is that the seeds are also temperature sensitive. If temperatures are 80 degrees or above lettuce seeds will not germinate. This makes our fall and winter perfect for lettuce. These seeds will germinate even if the temperatures are in the 40 degree range. Last but not least, lettuce seed must stay moist. If the seeds dry out during sprouting they will not make it. Because I like to grow lettuce in containers, I plant my seed and mist them gently, then cover my pots with saran wrap. You can achieve the same effect in the garden by covering the seeds with clear plastic cups or tent saran over your seeds. With the right light, temperature and moisture you should have lettuce coming up in no time.
Once your seeds germinate there are very few pests to worry about. Snails, slugs and caterpillars are the worst culprits but they can be easily controlled with bait or removing them by hand. Lettuce can get aphids. If you find aphids, spray them off with water or use a blast of insecticidal soap to get rid of them. Simple!
Harvesting lettuce is easy. Harvest crisphead and butterhead lettuce when the heads have formed. Cut the plant off at the soil line. If the head starts to elongate harvest immediately. Elongated heads means the lettuce is bolting and that will turn your harvest bitter. Looseleaf and romaine lettuce can be harvested completely or you can harvest a few outer leaves at a time. These leaves will grow back giving you a continual harvest. We have a large selection of lettuce seeds here at Maas. Come and see us and we will be happy to help you start your winter green garden.