I've got a small garden going this year for the first time, and have
planted leaf lettuce that has been going fine. I was wondering since
the lettuce is starting to bolt, can I plant something in this space at
this time of year? What would do well? I've got peppers growing around
the lettuce now so whatever I plant needs to like some light shade. The
space I'm talking about is only about 2' by 6'. I'm in zone 6a.
How about.....more lettuce? I'm about to replant mine, I'll add some
compost (after pulling the roots) and seed in some new lettuce. I'll
shade the bed a bit to get things going and have lots of fresh lettuce
when the first tomatoes come in.
Ann, gardening in Zone 6a
South of Boston, Massachusetts
Plant more lettuce.
Most home gardeners think of spring as the time to plant and summer as
the time to start harvesting. Lettuce takes about 60 days (longer for
romaine), so when it's ready you should eat it. All. This business of
taking a couple leaves off to make the plant last longer doesn't work.
The lettuce eventually bolts and gets bitter.
If you have a dozen heads of lettuce that are ready to harvest and don't
want to be eating nothing but lettuce for the next week, pull the plants
up with the root attached. Wash the root off and put the plant in a bag
with a little water on the roots and put the whole thing in the fridge.
It will last a week or three there.
Better to plant lettuce every 2-3 weeks. That ensures you a continuous
supply of lettuce. As a farmer, I seed lettuce every week until early
August. In New England, it gets cold after September, so the lettuce
takes significantly longer than 60 days. Last year I harvested my last
lettuce out of the field December 21st (I covered it for the frosty
nights). (That was somewhat unusual, as we had no temperatures below
about 15 F before that). Note that lettuce in the field will take
temperatures down to 25F without much problem, although some varieties
will show some tipburn at those temperatures. Red edge lettuce seems to
be more resistant to that problem (maybe because the brown edges look
similar to the natural red edges).
Since lettuce doesn't like hot weather, watch your lettuce for signs of
bolting (elongated heads, stretching of the stem between leaves, etc.).
If you see preliminary signs, pick the lettuce (even if it's small) and
store it as above or cut it up and make lettuce mix. Cut lettuce mix
doesn't last in the fridge as long as heads (the cut edges start to
brown), but it's edible for a week or more.
To facilitate lettuce planting, I start lettuce in very small cells (200
to a 10" x 20" flat, cells are about 3/4" square, 1" deep), one seed per
cell. Since lettuce seed is hard to handle on an individual basis, I buy
pelleted lettuce seed. It is basically lettuce seed with a clay coating
to produce a sphere about 1/8" in diameter, something you can handle
easily with your fingers. I get them in packages of 10,000, but I've
seen them advertised in packages of 250, at a price not unreasonable for
a home gardener. After 3-4 weeks, the roots fill the small cell so that
the plant comes out easily and can be planted directly in the garden at
the proper spacing (I use 12" spacing). In hot weather, germination is a
problem, so as soon as I put the seeds in the cells and water them, I
place the flat in a cool place (60-75 F) for 2 days, then put them
outdoors. Note that when the plants start to size up, these small cells
dry out quickly, so you might have to water them twice a day in hot dry
weather. Once in the morning before going to work and again when coming
home seems to work OK generally. When they start to dry out regularly,
get them out of the cells and into the ground. The plants come out more
easily if you soak the cells a half hour before pulling the plants out.
If you don't have a 200 size tray, check with your local greenhouse to
see if they will sell you one. they're thin plastic, so you can cut them
up with scissors to accommodate the amount of lettuce you are going to
use. If they don't use 200 trays, anything up to 392 might work,
although the smaller cells (larger number of cells) dry out more
quickly. However, the roots fill the smaller cells more quickly, so the
plant will come out for transplanting more quickly. Above 392, they
might require water more than twice a day, and you might encounter
problems with the lettuce plants getting twined together and hard to
remove. Going to lower numbers, you will have to leave the plants in the
cells longer. If the roots don't fill the cell, the plant doesn't come
out cleanly, and transplant shock is an issue. However, lettuce is
tough, so it will probably survive. Just be sure you water the plants as
soon as they are transplanted. That improves contact between the garden
soil and the new plant roots, so the plant can more easily develop its
How about rocket (eruca sativa)? It germinates and grows to useful size
quickly, takes hot weather pretty well, and is a nice addition to the
salad. The flowers aren't bad looking; and it also reseeds itself.
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