March 15. It’s time to start some lettuce indoors for transplanting out as soon as the ground thaws and the snow disappears. Hopefully. Last year the last big snow storm was in April, so spring weather is always iffy. But lettuce likes cool weather. A gardener can always add a row cover.
It seems to me from years of experience that lettuce is easy to grow but hard to manage. Early spring lettuce grows best. I have the best luck with lettuce started indoors and transplanted out. I like the practice of cut-and-come-again, which works even with head lettuce. Just trim a few leaves from around the edges while the head is forming. Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog instructs lettuce growers to plant every 3 weeks through the season. Yeah, right. The problem is that, once the soil temp warms to 65°F., germination tapers off. After the early spring lettuce has matured and been eaten or has bolted, I haven’t had much luck with succession planting for lettuce.
So the Allstar gourmet lettuce mix featured in the photos above looks like the answer to a lettuce gardener’s dreams. And it is. I bought seeds again this year, planted some indoors, and will transplant the young seedlings out soon. It’s beautiful and delicious, but it doesn’t please me because the varieties in the mix are unknown, varying on availability of seed. Always red and green oakleafs, romaines, lollo rossa, and other types of lettuce, but the varieties themselves remain a mystery. I can understand how this is a good idea for seed companies, but I like to know what I’m eating. Not just lettuce, but Crispino iceberg lettuce, or Nancy butterhead lettuce. I’m a pushover for good names. For example, I will always plant El Jefe jalapeño peppers just because the name is such a perfect match for the product. They also taste delicious, but that’s not the point.
So, this year I’m making an effort to grow a nice mix of individual lettuce varieties that I can identify by name in succession plantings that will carry me through the summer into fall. It won’t be easy.
From Johnny’s Selected Seeds, my goto seed company, I chose the Allstar gourmet mix, just to get the season going. Then, also from Johnny’s, I chose the following varieties: Coastal Star, a green romaine; Nancy, a green butterhead of the Boston type; Newham, a green bibb mini head; and my much beloved Crispino, an iceberg. I also started some early mizuna and some red giant mustard left over from last year.
The photo above shows the lettuce sprouts less than a week after planting. They are now under grow lights after spending a few days germinating on the dining room table without lights under plastic domes to keep the humidity high. They now are in desperate need of transplanting out of the seed-starting soil mix into potting soil in larger pots.
Above you see the early mizuna transplanted into potting soil in larger pots. The other lettuce will soon follow the same transplanting path. After that, they will be transported to the deck on warm afternoons but still spend nights indoors until the night low temps are above freezing. Then, I hope to put them still in their pots into the vegetable garden under row covers. Finally, I will plant them into raised beds in the vegetable garden still under row covers as needed. I hope to document their journey from seed to salad with updates to this post. If you are interested, check back to see if I’m keeping garden and blog going as promised.
Here’s to good summer eats with lots of summer salads. Good for body and soul.