Perhaps the wind is still howling round your house, but . . . hallelujah, seed catalogs are also stuffing the mailbox. So, let’s talk lettuce. If this is your first season gardening, or your twenty-millionth, lettuce is one of those plants you should definitely try. Whether it’s going to be in a container on your patio or deck, or in-ground, lettuce is super easy to sow. It’s also music to a tired gardener’s soul. Along with radishes, I don’t think there is anything easier.
As you know, it gets really hot here quickly, so if you want, you can start your lettuce indoors. I usually just sow mine outside and thin it after it comes up when it’s about the stage in this picture. Lettuce, sown this way, must be thinned, or this is all you’ll get.
Lettuce seeds are tiny, and there are tools you can use to make the seeds hit the ground one or two at a time. Or, you can mix them with sand if you want. The sand will show where you’ve planted. Honestly, I don’t go to this much trouble. Seeds aren’t that expensive, and most lettuce seeds are light in color and easy to see. ‘Black-Seeded Simpson,’ a favorite of mine, does actually have black seeds, but I just wing it.
There are five, distinct types of lettuce: cos or romaine, butterhead, crisphead, looseleaf and stem. The ones I plant here in my Oklahoma garden usually are looseleaf, butterhead–which never has time to head up–and romaine. So far, I’m planting ‘Red Sails,’ ‘Garnet Rose,’ ‘Speckles’ and ‘Jericho.’ I’ll probably add more. I chose ‘Jericho’ because it was selected in Israel. Oklahoma is at least as hot as Israel. I buy a lot of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange because they choose hot-weather cultivars. The other three lettuces were given to garden bloggers who attended the Garden Bloggers Seattle Fling. Will you be going to the Garden Bloggers Asheville Fling? I probably will.
When choosing which seeds to buy, stick with those labeled slow-bolt, meaning they won’t try to set seed on the first hot day. You’ll know when the weather is too hot for these lettuces because they will taste bitter.
Don’t restrict yourself to green. We now know brightly-colored vegetables are higher in nutrients. The average, American diet is very low in some nutrients and phyto-nutrients so get them where you can. Choose lettuces which are speckled or intense red to go with your bright greens. A year or so ago, I wrote about one of my favorite lettuces for Organic Gardening, ‘Forellenschluss.’ It is also known here as ‘Speckled Troutback’ because of its purple speckles. Colorful vegetables also bring beauty to the garden. Rosalind Creasy’s newest book, Edible Landscaping shows through pictures and words, how lovely vegetable gardens can be. It is my favorite book on vegetable gardening right now, and I’ve pondered its pictures all winter. Another book on this same theme is The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden, by Ivette Soler, sent to me for review last year.
I’ve decided for the first time in a long time to start a few of the butterhead lettuces indoors. Maybe it will help them achieve full stature in the short time they’re allowed to grow, and I can place them where I want them.
Don’t forget to do a soil test before you start. You could go to the county extension and do the big test, but I know you. You’re as impatient as I for some delicious food from your own yard, and you won’t want to wait, so just buy one from the local hardware store. It will give you the basics. Lettuces are heavy feeders. They need plenty of food to feed you.
Lettuces, along with lots of other tasty greens, feature heavily in my spring garden. Which ones will you plant this year?