If you have been reading my blog and web site for any time, you know my fondness for lettuce. In the May 2008 issue of Organic Gardening Magazine there was a very good article about growing lettuce. It might be one of the best articles I have read about lettuce. It listed the different types of lettuce and their overall qualities. The types of lettuce are as follows: Looseleaf, Butterhead, Romaine, Batavian, Crisphead. Looseleaf types are general faster maturing, but are less heat tolerant. They are probably a better choice for the early spring garden. Butterhead types (also called Bibb or Boston) I have found are generally more heat tolerant and form small heads with dark green outer leaves. Romaine might be my favorite lettuce for taste and will hold up reasonably well to the heat of early summer in my Indiana garden. Batavian lettuce forms loose heads and seems to hold up at least as well as Romaine, in my opinion. Organic Gardening pointed to a university study which suggested that Batavian lettuce resisted bolting better than any other type (lettuce “bolts” by sending up a seed stalk, causing the lettuce to turn bitter). Lettuce bolts usually in response to increased daylight and temperature. Crisphead types, also known as iceburg, typically grow more slowly and, in my experience, do not perform as well in the heat. Crisphead varieties also seem to be the favorite of slugs.
I do not direct seed lettuce in the garden, but rather use transplants. This is a personal choice as I do not seem to waste as much seed and I do not have to thin them either. The article suggested using mulch around your lettuce plants to help keep the soil moist unless slugs become a problem, then you should avoid using mulch. I absolutely agree with that. I usually do not mulch very heavily in the spring when slug numbers seem to be the highest, but at other times of the year, mulch can be very beneficially. I usually mulch around the lettuce with dried grass clippings. I have generally found that trying to grow lettuce in middle of the summer here in Indiana can be somewhat tricky due to the heat. In fact, over the past few years I have stopped growing lettuce during the period from about mid July to mid August. This seems to have worked our fairly well for me. You still can grow lettuce during the hottest times of year if you give it some shade and keep it WELL WATERED. You can shade your lettuce using hoops and Garden Clips with shade cloth.
During the warmer times of the year, I find it best to harvest lettuce in the morning before the day gets too hot. This keeps the lettuce from getting bitter. I also recommend washing it in cold water and spinning it dry in a Zyliss Salad Spinner as soon as possible after harvesting. If this is not possible, store the unwashed lettuce in a plastic grocery bag in the refrigerator until later. After the lettuce has been washed and spin-dried, store it in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel. The paper towel will help absorb any leftover moisture. The lettuce can be kept for up to 3 weeks if stored in this manner.
Here are some of the best lettuce varieties for heat and cold according to Organic Gardening:
Looseleaf: New Read Fire, Salad Bowl (My Pick), Simpson Elite
Butterhead: Optima, Winter Density
Romaine: Green Towers (Probably My #1 Favorite Lettuce).
Batavian: Magenta, Nevada (My Pick)
Some of MY favorite lettuce varieties can be found on the following page: http://timssquarefootgarden.com/plantlist.htm
Now get out there and plant some lettuce. You won’t regret it one bit!!