Tuesday, February 7, 2012

First Harvest of Overwintered Lettuce

I am going out to the cold frame this afternoon to pick the first lettuce of the year. The plants were started in October and transplanted to the cold frame after 30 days in cell trays. They only had time to establish themselves before the short days and cold temperatures stopped their growth. Now that the days are getting longer, and with the help of the January thaw, they have grown enough to pick.

We are especially happy with the performance of the cultivar, Ashley, the frilly red one in the middle of the photo. Michelle, the bright green one in the foreground, was the second best performer. Less inspiring was Rougette de Montpelier, a red-tinted butterhead type that apparently does not like to overwinter.

As a general rule, lettuce varieties with red in the leaves, and those with extremely "savoyed," or finely divided, leaves, have the greatest cold tolerance. Given our experience with these three, savoyed leaves may trump red pigment.

Last month, we started more seeds of Ashley. After the plants shown here are harvested, we will add some cottonseed meal to the bed and replant. We will soon start more seeds, of some different lettuce cultivars, to be transplanted outside the cold frame in March.

The oblong plastic planters at the left of the photo above represent an experiment we began last fall. We purchased our cold frames late in the season, because we waited for the store to put them on clearance. They did not go up until November 8, 2011. The planters were handy, and there was some space on the foundation of the cold frame to accommodate them. Therefore, we sowed seeds of anything cold tolerant that we happened to have on hand. As you can see, the cilantro sown in the upper planter germinated profusely. It has just begun to grow again after pausing for the winter. In the lower planter, arugula--described on the package as a "wild" form--barely germinated. A patch of the same seeds sown a month earlier outdoors germinated very well, but to date is no more than two inches tall. We will wait to see if more seeds germinate in the planter this spring, but so far this variety has been a disappointment. Two others, Parsley 'Krausa' and Dill 'Dukat,' were also sown on November 8, and barely germinated. On the other hand, Corn Salad 'Vit,' sown the same day, sprang up everywhere, grew well during the coldest weather, and transplanted successfully into the ground bed. New transplants flank lettuce 'Lollo Rossa' in the image above right. This is another good lettuce for overwintering, although it does not grow as large as it does during spring.

The blue flowers in the photo are violas. We like to use them to divide our cold frame beds into planting blocks. They bloom all winter and the flowers add a welcome note to salads, too.

No comments: