Sunday, 7 June 2020

Lettuce

Lettuce is traditionally the mainstay of many salads, and we use a lot of it in our household. I do my best to make sure that we have lettuce available throughout the Summer months.


Over the years my lettuce-growing efforts have met with mixed success. The soil in my garden is very sandy and dries out very rapidly. Lettuce don't like that, and they often bolt (run to seed prematurely) because of it. I like to increase my chances of success by growing lots of different varieties - though obviously only a few of each. This year I have devoted a half of one of my raised beds to growing lettuce, which gives me space for about 16 - 18 of them at any given moment, depending on size.


Here's a rundown of what types I have this year...

First is "Saxo", a looseleaf red/bronze variety which lends itself to the "cut and come again" method of harvesting, whereby you take just a few leaves at a time rather than cutting the whole lettuce off at the stem.

"Saxo"

Then we have "Lobjoits Green Cos", a Cos / Romaine type. These are typically harvested whole.

"Lobjoit's Green Cos"

Next, "Cocarde", a green and bronze oak-leaf variety, which grows very big if you allow it to.

"Cocarde"

When I planted these four I thought they were all the same (they came from a mixed pack), but they aren't. There are three of one type and one of another.


The three are like this. I reckon they are "Lollo bionda" or something similar. Certainly soft and frilly!


I believe the odd one out is "Yugoslavian Red". The remains of a pack of that variety went into the mixed sowing. The leaves are bigger than the previous one, and more "blistered".


Right at the end of the row I have a pair of "Great Lakes", an Iceberg type. These were planted later than the others so they are currently much smaller though they will hopefully get very big in due course.


Most of the lettuces pictured above are nearly ready but not quite. In the interim we have been making the most of this tray of "Baby Leaf Salad" - in reality the leftover seedlings of "Saxo" and "Lobjoits Green Cos".


I have cut leaves from that tray of lettuce so many times! It's actually a very economical way to grow lettuce, both in terms of cost and in terms of space. I've kept mine productive by giving it an occasional dose of seaweed-based liquid fertiliser.

One of the keys to success with lettuce is successional sowing, sowing little and often so that you don't end up with a glut. Waiting in the wings is my next lot of seedlings, ready for planting as soon as space becomes available.


I also have another tray of tiny seedlings, only recently germinated, so we're not going to be short of lettuce any time soon!


6 comments:

  1. Biscia Rossa I think maybe?
    I've grown Lollo Rossa and it's various spellings over the years as It's my favourite and every time it comes out different - I've had totally green, totally red, anywhere between, all masquerading as the red version!

    Slugs are my main problem where I live, so all my lettuce is now grown in windowsill troughs on galvanised shelving. A game changer!

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    1. Hi Tim; You may well be right. I had some Biscia Rossa last year (though they all bolted before maturity). Some of the seeds may have crept into the homemade mix I put together. However, I'm not 100% sure, because the leaves of the 3 I referred to in my post look a lot frillier.

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  2. Beautiful post - my favourite food. Especially like the ref to "Yugoslavian Red", which has prompted this comment.
    As I'm sure you know, Slovenia (ex Yugoslavia) is a secondary centre of lettuce diversity. I used to know the curator of the Slovenian gene bank, Mihaela ńĆerna, now deceased, who we've always called the 'Lettuce Lady'. She collected more than 100 varieties of wild lettuce from the Slovenian countryside and mountains and grew them in her greenhouses every year and would pick the leaves and save the seed. I guess 'Yugoslavian Red' was among them. For each variety she assayed their levels of Lactucin, the active ingredient, prized by early Egyptians (that's why they selected lettuces as a favoured leaf crop), which causes drowsiness (as Peter Rabbit found to his cost!).
    Each evening, before she went to bed, Mihaela would assess her mood and would select leaves from a variety that would be suited to it: if she was agitated, she would chew a few leaves of a variety high in Lactucin; but if she was relatively calm, she would select some with lower levels just to help her off to sleep. Always, she would avoid the plants with the highest levels as those made her vomit!
    We don't have many varieties but in our raised beds in the allotment, we plant successive sowings of mixed lettuce seed which we thin, harvest and cut leaves from until the autumn frosts.
    Lettuces provide a wonderful food with great nutrition - so long as Lactucin-free, 99% water Icebergs are avoided!!
    Thanks again for your post.
    Stay safe
    Patrick Mulvany (patrick.mulvany@gmail.com)

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    1. Hi Patrick; Thank you for this fascinating insight into the "world of lettuces"! There is more to lettuce than meets the eye, obviously.

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  3. We’re not growing lettuce on the allotment this year, we’re growing in pots at home.

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  4. I never get my lettuce to stay sweet through July. And I don't really have anywhere shady to plant them. I think I might try this year though. It might be a good time to sow some seeds in a container up against the north side of the shed.

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