I’ve always grown lettuce but for me, it’s been a spring crop. I never tried growing it in the summer or attempted to keep a constant supply of lettuce coming from the garden.
But this year, I decided to try a serious lettuce growing program.
To start, I knew that I needed a mixture of seeds, some that are better in the spring, others for the summer and still others for the fall. On my own, it would have taken a lot of time and effort to search through all of the lettuce varieties and determine which ones to grow. Fortunately, Johnny’s Seeds has developed a head lettuce planting program that lists the best varieties for each season.
I also knew that I needed a location to grow the lettuce that would be easy to control, water and monitor. So I made a 4’x4′ raised bed and divided it into 9 squares. That’s a little larger than the square foot gardening technique, but I liked that it would give the plants a little more room to grow.
I also wanted to provide some shade to the plants. Since I had already put stakes at each corner and wrapped the bed with chicken wire, I had the framework to attach some cloth to the top of the bed. I stretched wire to each diagonal post to make an “X” across the top of the bed. Then I put a piece of floating row cover over the top and attached it to the posts. The end result looked like a little chuppah (!), but it would give the plants some shade while still allowing me to access the bed for watering, weeding and harvesting.
I chose four different kinds of lettuce from Johnny’s program for the summer growing season. I figured that two summer crisps (Muir and Cherokee), a butterhead (Adriana) and a romaine (Costal Star) would give me a good mixture of plants to see which grew the best in the lettuce chuppah. Since lettuce can have thermal dormancy (seeds don’t germinate at high temperatures), I didn’t direct seed the lettuce; instead, I started seeds inside in Jiffy-7s.
I’ve been starting seeds every 2 weeks and planting four plants to a square in the raised bed. So far, it’s working well. This has been a wet and somewhat cool summer so the plants haven’t been stressed by heat or drought. I’ve started to harvest some of the first plantings and the lettuce is good.
Will this success continue? Time will tell. Warmer days are ahead and we’ll see if the plants bolt or turning bitter. Also, in August I’ll stop starting seeds of the summer varieties and switch to a couple fall varieties of lettuce.
If this experiment continues to work, that little 4’x4′ bed with its chuppah covering might just be the way to keep a steady supply of lettuce coming in from the garden. I could start in the spring and keep planting through early fall using the nine squares to grow lettuce all season long.