Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lettuce Season

I have always thought of April as the best month for lettuce in the garden, and this year is no exception. We started some plants in January and transplanted them to one of the greenhouses. The resulting bed, shown at right, has been yielding delicious salads for a couple of weeks now. Lettuce is super-easy to grow, so we plant a lot more than we can use. This allows us to go out to the garden right before dinner and pick individual leaves for a perfect salad. It helps to have a lot of plants to select from. If you only take one leaf per plant, the plant hardly notices. They just keep on growing, providing a continuously available supply of tasty leaves.

It is much easier to clean lettuce when harvested as individual leaves, rather than cutting the whole head. I try to select leaves that are not too close to the ground, avoiding both sand and insects. Slugs like to hide near the soil line, too. Further, removing a leaf here and a leaf there helps maintain the decorative look of the bed. Lettuce is one of the prettiest vegetables, and can be used to border a flower bed, for example.

The two varieties in the picture are 'Red Sails' and 'Oakleaf.' Seeds for both came from Mayo's here in Knoxville. They look great together in the garden and on the plate.

At left are lettuce seedlings that we started on March 10. They are ready to be transplanted, which will take place this weekend. These plants will go into a raised bed without added protection, since the weather has warmed up enough that a hard freeze is unlikely. (I should not have written that. Now I have jinxed the whole Valley.)

The varieties in the flat are 'Red Romaine', 'Freckles', 'Michelle', 'Rougette de Montpelier', and 'Deer Tongue.' The empty cells resulted from spotty germination, a common problem when seed for some varieties is stored for more than one season. I have learned that old-fashioned cultivars such as 'Black Seeded Simpson' and 'Buttercrunch' produce seed that retains viability longer than some of the newer ones.

The diversity of leaf shape and color combinations in lettuces is enormous, another reason the plants can be used decoratively. And during April in East Tennessee, they all flourish. If I had to grow only one spring vegetable, it would be lettuce.

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