Tag Archives: lettuce

You Can Grow That: Lettuce

lettuceYou can grow lettuce, it is one of the easiest plants to grow in the spring. Lettuce needs very little soil to grow and tolerates cool days and frosty nights. In the spring, lettuce should be given as much light as possible. Think container gardening or  garden beds where trees have not leafed out yet.

In my Northern Virginia garden, I  sow seeds in containers and the garden bed in March and again every 2 weeks thereafter until the end of May. Lettuce seeds are very small so just press them into wet soil. Afterwards, make sure the soil does not dry out, which may mean watering often, depending on the weather. The squirrels like to dig in my containers on the deck so I apply a dust of blood meal. In the garden bed, the slugs like to dine at night so I throw down broken eggshells. I tend to sow too many seeds so as the seedlings emerge, I pull to create more space for the remaining soldiers and use them in salad or transplant to other areas of the garden that are waiting for the warm weather veggies. The nice thing about lettuce is that you can grow them before the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so you don’t need more land; you just double up on your existing land. This year, I sowed lettuce seed in March in a very large Smart Pot called the Big Bag Bed–it is the size of a kiddie pool! By April, I was able to transplant quite a few in a garden bed. Just now, in May, I planted peppers in between the lettuce in the garden bed so by the time it is summer the lettuce will have been pulled (it will be too bitter) and the peppers will grow into the space.smart pot

My family prefers the loose-leaf and romaine varieties. Loose-leaf, or cut and come again, has leaves that are loosely splayed outwards from the crown. They are the easiest to grow, quickest to harvest, and come in a variety of colors.  The entire plant can be cut at the base but most people cut the outer leaves as needed so the younger, inner leaves can take their place. Within this group are some of the best heat tolerant varieties. Romaine, also called cos, is not as sweet to me but I find that homegrown romaine is much tastier than store bought. Its stiff, vertical leaves are great for sandwiches and wraps. Romaine has the highest nutritional value of all the lettuces so it is a feel good mommy lettuce.pepper with lettuce

There are two other types that I have not grown. Butterhead, such as Bibb and Boston, has small heads of dark green leaves. These plants are so tight they have to be cut at the base and harvested whole. Crisphead is the familiar Iceberg, a tight ball of light colored leaves that requires a long cool season so it would be too challenging for me.

Try growing lettuce, you would be amazed at how it is easy and tasty!

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something by posting gardening articles on the fourth of each month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more articles.

In My Virginian Garden: A July Update

I have not posted in a while partly because the garden is in full swing, I am so busy harvesting, and partly because we have been making changes here at the homestead that necessitate me being outside instead of inside at the computer. We had a few trees thinned and one chopped down entirely which has increased the sunlight, putting a few plants in shock, but great for some other plants that needed extra sun. I am now able to extend my front garden where the old crab apple tree was, which will be a fall project. We also had the deck power washed which traumatized the container plants that had to be put out on the lawn for now, including the tomatoes in the earthboxes, and greatly moved the soil around many plants. So I have spent much time moving, tending, nursing, and healing the garden but in the end I will have more light (always needed for edibles) and more garden beds.

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

Black Beauty Eggplant Flower

So far, I have had great success with melons, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs of course. The puzzler of the year are the eggplants, which I grew successfully last year in a different place but this year, no fruit. Lots of flowers, and everything else nearby is flowering and fruiting, but no eggplant. I read that they are self fertile and I should brush the flowers with a paintbrush, which I just started to do, but still nothing. These are Black Beauty eggplants so maybe next year I will try a different type. I have about six plants among basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash, with plenty of bees,  and they are the only plants that do not bear fruit.

On the bright side, I am enjoying the Burpee celery plant,’Peppermint Stick’. I would have never grown a celery plant unless Burpee sent it to me but it has turned out to be really easy to grow and very tasty, much more so than what you get in a store. The stalks are more pungent and the leaves are so big they could be used to garnish as well. I am sold, will grow celery from now on!

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in ground

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Burpee Peppermint Stick celery in bowl

Another success is Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon plant. These I started from seed and grew in the large Smart Pots so they could get pampered with the richest soil and plenty of water. I have several melons so far. I have not eaten them yet but just having them is a success for me. We have been fortunate to have had quite a lot of rain in the early summer which I think is responsible for so many melons — it certainly has given me a bumper crop of cucumbers.

Renee's Garden's Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Renee’s Garden’s Gourmet Tuscan Melon

Another surprise was the Jericho lettuce, also from Renee’s Garden. It was partly shaded by a tree limb, which we cut down and since the sunlight has increased, these lettuce plants have been growing and doing well. Lettuce in July is a rare treat, will harvest these soon!

For fun, I planted Proven Winners’ Superbells calibrachoa ‘Holy Moly’, which is a flowering annual, in a large container with Burpee’s ‘Sweet Savour’ pepper. I really like the combination: Holy Moly lends itself to yellows, red and oranges but also plays off blue because it can been seen as an orange color (at first I could not decide if the container should be red, green, or blue). In early summer, the Sweet Savour peppers were yellow, but now at the end of July, the peppers have turned red and orange. They are small, perfect for a container, and although look like hot peppers are actually sweet.

Close Up of Proven Winners' Holy Moly

Close Up of Proven Winners’ Holy Moly

Burpee's Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Burpee’s Sweet Savour peppers in late July

Easy to Grow Heirloom Lettuce: Flashy Trout Back

Flashy Trout Back lettuce

Flashy Trout Back lettuce

I am growing Flashy Trout Back lettuce for the first time and I love the way the leaves are emerging with wine-colored speckles. Makes it easy to distinguish from spring weeds. Flashy Trout Back is an heirloom European lettuce dating back to the 1700s. Known as “Forellenschuss’ or trout speckles, the leaves are supposed to look like the back of trout fish. The wine-colored spots against the bright green leaves add color in my garden, where for now they receive full sun but cool spring temperatures. In the summer, I will grow lettuce in the backyard where the delicate leaves will receive dappled sun or shade from the tall summer vegetables. Lettuce likes rich soil, cool weather, a regular supply of moisture, and here in Northern Virginia, full sun in the spring and afternoon shade in the summer. We can sow seeds outdoors as early as mid to late March, and continue to sow every couple of weeks until the heat of the summer kicks in. Lettuce seed can germinate at temperatures as low as 40 but best at 75 and poorly at 80-85 degrees F.

Flashy Trout Back is a romaine (also known as cos) type of lettuce, considered the most nutritious of the different types of lettuce, followed by loose leaf, which is a non-heading type that comes in various shades of green or red. Third in nutrition is bibb or butterhead, a heading lettuce with looser and darker green leaves than iceburg, and fourth is crisphead, a tight heading type with light green leaves (e.g., iceburg). Romaine has a stiff, vertical shape that is great for wraps, fajitas, sandwiches, and, if cut up, salads.

red loose leaf lettuce

red loose leaf lettuce

In the lettuce world, the Holy Grail is a lettuce that tolerates the heat in the summer and resists bolting which is why you may find terms such as “heat-resistant” and/or “slow-bolting” in catalogs and on seed packets. Bolting is when the lettuce starts to flower. In other words, the plant stops putting energy in to leaves and starts to send up a flower stalk in order to flower, set seed, and die. This occurs with increased temperatures and day length. Resistance to bolting is highest with loose leaf lettuce, followed by romaine, bibb (butterhead), and crisphead. If you want to continue to grow lettuce in the summer, you need to look for heat resistant, slow-bolting types and provide continued moisture and shade.

mix of lettuce leaves in large bowl for dinner salad

mix of lettuce leaves in large bowl for dinner salad

Always harvest lettuce in the early morning, when the leaves are full of water and the glucose content is highest.  Also, the outer leaves of leaf lettuce contain higher levels of calcium so harvest the outer leaves first on the Romaine and the loose leaf types. Know that lettuce tends to get small bugs like aphids so after you cut the leaves, wash them and let them soak in a large bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes, and then use a salad spinner.

 

 

Giving Thanks for Lessons Learned During 2014 Gardening Season

As Thanksgiving approaches and the 2014 gardening season ends, I am thankful that I have been able to 1) garden this year; and 2) harvest and cook new veggies that my family enjoyed. I don’t take gardening for granted. I am lucky I have the physical health, the space, and the time to be able to garden. I also believe that gardening is a process; the garden as well as the gardener continues to evolve.  Growing, harvesting, and cooking edibles is an even more complex process because the critters want the harvest just as much as you do. When you spend months growing veggies for your family, warding off deer and aphids, you have made a positive impact on everyone’s health. Plus, when your son helps you set up a compost pile or your daughter enjoys making kale chips, you know you have instilled valuable memories and a better understanding of nature. Despite a successful gardening year, I have a few “lessons learned” from my Northern Virginia garden that may help others in my neighborhood.

Alpine strawberry: Learned that if you grow from seed, in addition to buying plants, you will greatly expand your palette of edibles that grow successfully in your garden. Alpine strawberries are great plants, easy to grow from seed, but you won’t find the strawberries in stores or the plants for sale in nurseries (the fruit is too small and delicate to ship). I started my seed in the spring and by mid-November, I was still harvesting the small, delicate fruit.

Beans: Learned that beans germinate so quickly and the plants are so easy to grow, they are great kid plants. Beans keep on producing beans all summer long. Even if something eats the leaves, the plants come back. Although I prefer pole beans for extended harvest and vertical lines, I could also grow a bush bean plant in a large container surrounded by other colorful edibles for a “patio garden.”tomatofaceJuly2014 023

Eggplant: Learned that if you grow it, they will come. I have never seen flea beetles until I grew eggplants.  Learned to plant the transplants later, when more mature, and to use Surround next time, which will coat the plants with kaolin (a fine clay based product). Also learned that eggplants seem to be more drought resistant than other veggies, they do not need to be watered as often.

Goji plants:  Learned that once you have one goji plant, you will always have a goji plant. Goji plants root from roots. If you dig up one plant to place elsewhere and you accidentally leave roots behind, you may find new goji plants. Not that this is a bad thing, I like to eat the small red fruits which are a great source of antioxidants.

Kale: Learned the importance of organic methods. Kale is easy to grow but attracts several different kind of bugs in our area so if you can imagine a farmer growing kale and having to battle these pests on a large scale, you would want he or she to use organic practices instead of chemical sprays.  Learned that kids love kale chips and I love to add this healthy green in soups and stews.

Lemon cucumbers: Learned that lemon cucumbers are tasty, easy to grow, and prolific. For once, I did not have a problem with bitterness. Learned that kids like novelty, in fact, was able to give away to friends who also thought they were great! Learned that they are so prolific, they need a heavy trellis to lean on or will drape over my tomatoes and peppers.SmithsonianAugust2014 089

Lemon grass: Learned that I could get edibles from Asian markets for a fraction of the cost. My lemon grass plant came from stalks bought at the Asian market, which I rooted in soil. I also learned that once the plants are established, I can pull off a stalk, root it in water/soil, and start a new plant (great gifts for friends). I learned, through YouTube, how to harvest the stalks for cooking and how to dry them to make herbal tea.

Lettuce:  Learned that I need to buy different varieties, those that can take cool weather and those that can adapted to heat so can grow continuously from spring through fall. Also learned that our family prefers the cut and come again sweet lettuce. Lettuce is one of the easiest edibles to grow, in a shallow container or in a bed, but it is important to keep sowing to have new, young leaves that are not bitter or that will not bolt.

Pak choi: Learned that pak choi is another fast germinator and easy to direct seed if have cool weather. Like lettuce, need to have enough seed to sow several times, because I use it a lot in cooking. Although it can be grown in a container I use too much so I grow it in the front garden bed and so far, no pests or disease.

Peppers: Learned that pepper seeds are difficult to germinate or conversely, I don’t have patience.  But I also learned that once I can get them to germinate and transplanted in the garden, I can harvest peppers up until frost. They seem to perk up in the fall and produce even more peppers.

Pineapple sage: Learned that even though this is a tropical plant that does not overwinter here in Virginia, it does not necessarily mean it likes the hot, afternoon sun. My pineapple sage wilted often in August’s heat but thrived in the cooler autumn temperatures. I think it would have thrived in morning sun, afternoon shade, which is where I will put it next year.  Pineapple sage is one of my favorite herbs for teas so I periodically cut stems and harvest the leaves. I learned that if I strip almost all leaves except two or three, I could put the stems in water and they will root.  I end up with even more plants to put into the garden or to give to friends.tomatofaceJuly2014 089

Shiso: Learned that shiso can be invasive in Virginia. I obtained a seed packet from a California based company and after I had transplanted the seedlings to my garden, I saw many plants in the neighbor’s garden, in the sidewalk cracks, alongside the road, etc. I then researched shiso further and discovered that it is considered invasive here, but maybe not California. The source of seed can make a difference plus the seed packet may not tell you everything you need to know.

Sugar snap peas: Learned that these are very easy to germinate, just soak seeds in water overnight, put in wet paper towels or paper coffee filters, and seal in a plastic bag. They germinate so fast this way you best be ready to plant them. I also learned that seedlings tolerate the cold, wet soil better than seeds so is best to germinate indoors and then plant outdoors.

Summer squash: Learned that it is worth it to grow the yellow summer squash so I will find a way to prevent the dreaded squash vine borer. My family enjoyed eating squash in a casserole dish and I am sure they will enjoy it next year when I add it to grilled shish kebab.cucumbersbeans 052

Tomato: Learned that seed germinates so fast, you can use cardboard egg cartons (any longer and the cardboard will get moldy). Also learned the value of growing in a medium with the prescribed amount of fertilizer. I have always grown my tomatoes in Earthboxes on the deck and they have never had diseases. I really believe it is because they are grow from seed, in a container on the deck (away from the garden soil and other plants), and with the prescribed amounts of lime and fertilizer.June29tomato 007

Zinger hibiscus or Roselle: Learned that the variety makes a difference. I obtained a packet of seed from a California-based company. Although I started the seeds indoors in early spring, transplanted outdoors in very rich soil in large containers (practically coddled them), this particular Hibiscus sabdariffa finally started flowering in late September but our frosts occur at the end of October. Again, the seed packet did not offer the crucial fact that flower initiation is caused by short days/long nights. Next year, I will grow another variety called Thai Red Roselle, which starts flowering mid-summer, allowing a more ample harvest.