The seasons are pretty amazing, really. Winter root vegetables are ready to harvest just when all you want to eat is a hearty roast dinner and a wonderful warm soup. And then comes Spring, just when you are starting to feel a craving for leafy greens and salads.
When I was growing up, I could've been forgiving for believing that lettuce only came in one type – iceberg. Always served with salad dressing made from sweetened condensed milk and malt vinegar. To this day, my father is still unswervingly loyal to this type of lettuce.
I have to admit that my lettuce loyalties have swerved greatly towards butterheads and loose-leaf lettuces. It's so much fun to throw a salad together with a variety of leaf shapes, colours and contrasting degrees of crunch! Now that the weather is warming up and it's approaching salad season again, it's time to choose some lettuces to grow this season.
All the lettuces in the Kings Seeds organics range are heirloom lettuces and there are some lovely lettuces from which to choose. Here are a few picks from our Organic Lettuces:
Lettuce Merveille des Quatre
This pre-1885 French heirloom has been lovingly cultivated in kitchen gardens for centuries. It was featured in French seed company Vilmorin’s 1885 book - “The Vegetable Garden”, where it was listed as the most “highly coloured of all the Lettuces grown about Paris.”
This an extremely popular lettuce and is one of my own favourites which I grow every year. This lettuce is a crispy butterhead variety with a big, open structure. It has beautiful, crumpled bronze outer leaves around a pale green heart.
The bronze/red colouring becomes more pronounced when this lettuce is grown in cooler conditions.
Merveille des Quatre Saisons has a great flavour, and it performs well throughout the growing seasons (hence its name, which translate to Marvel of Four Seasons). Highly recommended – if you haven't tried growing this already, then give it a go this year!
Cos lettuces are popular with gardeners and foodies, with a lot of rather glamorous dishes specifying cos lettuce (also known as romaine).
Cos lettuces have long narrow leaves, forming an upright, cylindrical head. There are only a few varieties of cos lettuce available.
Paris White Cos is one of our most popular lettuces, but if you want something a bit different, you could try Lettuce Silvia.
Silvia is a red cos lettuce, with a sweet taste and a buttery texture. Double the glamour, with the classic cos shape and the gorgeous deep red colouring! Again, as with most salad plants, the red colour is deeper in cooler weather. This lettuce is also a variety that can handle a range of growing conditions. Keep it well watered and it can tolerate heat, and it will also grow well into the colder months. Definitely a variety worth a try if you haven't grown it yet. Pair it up with Paris White Cos for colours in the garden and on the plate!
Lettuce Green Salad Bowl
Lettuce Green Salad Bowl is a loose leafed lettuce that produces a large rosette of wonderfully tender, bright green leaves.
This is lettuce is definitely worth its place in the salad garden. It is a great choice for baby leaf production and it is also wonderful grown to full size - one lettuce will fill your whole salad bowl!
If you want a bit of colour contrast, you can always team this lettuce up with another of our organic varieties, Red Salad Bowl.
The nice thing about growing lettuces is that they really aren't too hard to grow. Grow lettuce in full sun where the growing season is cool - they need a minimum of four hours sunlight every day. In the heat of summer, grow your lettuces in partial shade - you can grow them as a catch-crop in the shade of taller plants in your garden. Keep well watered. Leafy varieties generally do better than heading varieties in the heat.
The best ways to grow lettuce
Lettuce seeds lose their vigour more quickly than most other types of seed, so your lettuce seed needs to be fresh - check that you are not sowing seed that has expired and should be discarded.
Lettuce seed is photodormant, which means that lettuce seeds need light to germinate. Sow your seeds on the surface of the soil and barely cover them, so they will get enough light to ensure germination.
Sow more seeds every few weeks for a continuous supply of lettuces.
Grow lettuce in full sun where the growing season is cool - they need a minimum of four hours sunlight every day.
In the heat of summer, grow your lettuces in partial shade - you can grow them as a catch-crop in the shade of taller plants in your garden. Leafy varieties generally do better than heading varieties in the heat.
Keep well watered. Lettuce are shallow rooted and are taking their moisture very close to the surface of the soil, so don't let the soil get too dry.
We are not the only creatures who think lettuces are delicious! Protect the seedlings from birds, snails and slugs.
Bring on the salad season!!
Jan says ...
Was interested to read that lettuce seed needs light to germinate...and decided this must have been my reason for poor germination last yr..especially the seed I tried in my plastic house as opposed to that in garden (where the cats and birds often disturbed them), which was better. I was thinking the seed I sewed last week was a little deep...so decided to scratch the surface to give a few a better chance...but surprise...nearly 100% little sprouts about to pop throu.
I do have a vege question... what makes root veges bitter? I grew the most fantastic beetroot and carrots.... I weighed a carrot at 870g and a beetroot at nearly 3kg...however the taste wasn't so fantastic. I like my veg raw in salads...but they just weren't sweet enough. I grew Berlicum (carrot) and Chioggia (beetroot) since they were both described as v sweet. My carrots were well covered up...so not green, which I know can cause bitterness... nor had they been in ground too long as I successive plant for the seasons....however they were super sized due to growing in new soil with high fertility. Could this be the reason?
Thanks for your question Jan and our apologies for the delay in this reply. Bitterness in root vegetables is generally caused by stress, either from heat or water. In your case, the stress may have come from rapid growth. A suggestion? Add some lime to your soil. This should improve the level of sweetness in your beetroot and carrots.
Dianne says ...
I don't have too much trouble from slugs and snails due to putting down plenty of slug bait. However, I do get hammered by earwigs. Everything has little chew and bite marks, especially down near the soil and often a host of earwigs will run for cover when I get the lettuce or silver beet etc into the sink to wash it. I know earwigs can be useful to break down food scraps in the compost bin and worm farm but I really don't like them. Is there a way to get rid of them?
We are very sorry that we have missed your question, Dianne. Spring is keeping us pretty busy processing orders. With regard to earwigs! They eat decaying material such as rotten bark mulch and leaf litter. Even though the chew marks suggest earwig damage, we think it unlikely due to their preference for decayed stuff as opposed to fresh green leaves. The only suggestion we can make is that you remove any old plant material from around your lettuces so they don't have an environment in which to thrive. Other than that, we're not sure that there's much that you can do to rid your garden of them, sorry.
gav says ...
WHY AREN'T THERE ANY REPLIES?
Sorry Gav, spring has sprung!
Answers below for you now.
Karen@KingsSeeds says ...
It is not clear from the blog whether any of the lettuce varieties can be cut and "come again". This is of interest to me if anyone can reply. I have seen quite a few lettuces that will regrow from a cut stem, but that seems more "hit & miss". Thanks for the blogs.
We have quite a few that you can just pick the outer leaves. They are listed as Leaf Varieties in the catalogue and tend to have no head eg. Lolla Rossa, Salad Trim, Royal Oak, Salad Bowl, Oscarde, Tango.
Mathew says ...
Which lettuce varieties can handle extream heat in summer as i want to get as much out of the lettuce before going to seed.
KINGS SEEDS says; sorry but there are no such varieties. Leafy vegetables will all bolt in too much heat. That is why you will find lettuce prices hike in the middle of summer.