Sunday, December 28, 2014

End of Season Review - Lettuce

 
I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas holiday!  We do our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve.  My parents usually stay over and then there is the early wake up call on Christmas morning by one of the kids.  This year it was extra early - 6am (yawn!) - because my son actually set his alarm clock.

Note To Self - Next year make sure to check that all the alarm clocks are turned off!

Presents are opened, coffee is brewed and a leisurely festive breakfast follows.  The rest of the day is spent relaxing and eating leftovers from the day before.  As both of my kids said - "This was the BEST Christmas EVER!"  Don't you just love hearing that?

It's been almost a month & my poinsettia is still alive.
I'm such a brown thumb with houseplants that it's indeed a miracle!
 

I still have several end of year reviews to complete, so I figured I had better get a move on.  Before you know it, it will be seed ordering time - which for me is around mid-January.

The process of completing these reviews is turning out to be extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts and creating a plan for next year.  I always make extensive notes on what I grow, but usually only give them a quick read as I plan next years garden and that's about it.
 
My notes are quite lengthy, since you never know which detail will or won't be important as the season progresses.  Taking the time to really think about and summarize what happened this year and in prior years has really helped focus my plans for next year.  This will be especially useful in subsequent years, as I will have a brief annual summary for each crop containing only relevant details & timely reflections, instead of several pages of notes.

Lettuce

I grew 6 different varieties of lettuce this year – Rougette de Montpellier, Simpson Elite, Ruby Red, Royal Red, Pinares & Sierra MI.
 
The spring and summer lettuce was wonderful.  During the summer, I used a double layer of row cover as a shade cloth on the bed & it did a great job of shading the lettuce.  Our cool, wet summer likely helped to extend the harvest for each sowing as well.
 
 


Rougette de Montpellier (Butterhead)
 
Simpson Elite (Loose Leaf)
 
Ruby Red (Loose Leaf)

 



Royal Red (Loose Leaf)

Pinares (Romaine)

Sierra MI (Batavian)
 
I did 2 sowings of the Simpson Elite, Pinares and Sierra MI and only one sowing of the remaining varieties.  In the "Total Sq. Ft. Planted" row of the tables, I used the cumulative sq. ft. (i.e. 2 sowings of 2 sq. ft. each would be shown as 4 sq. ft.).  My primary purpose in calculating per sq. foot yield is to compare different years/varieties – taking into account the number of sowings gives me a much better idea of how well/poorly a crop did.

Of all the varieties I grew, the hands down favourite was the Sierra MI.  It was a heavy producer, the slowest variety to bolt, and it had an amazing, slightly sweetish taste & crunchy, almost juicy texture.  Once picked, it also stored the longest in the fridge – what’s not to love?  Second on the list was Pinares - it had a great crunchy texture & mild flavour.

I was quite surprised that the Royal Red produced the greatest harvest per square foot overall.  Had I not recorded the harvests, I would have sworn that Sierra MI produced a much larger harvest than any of the leaf lettuces.
 
The harvest period for both the Sierra MI & Pinares started one week later than the leaf lettuce varieties, which tells me that I should include a leaf lettuce variety each year to get an earlier start on the season.

In the spring & summer, I used diatomaceous earth to control the slugs & it worked very well.  But by the end of August, we were seeing rain practically every day (or so it seems) and the diatomaceous earth was much less effective.  I would say that I lost at least one third of the 2nd sowing (if not more) to slugs.
 
Lastly, with all the new beds going in this year, a fall sowing didn’t happen simply because I was just too busy trying to keep up with the rest of the garden.

 
Prior Year Comparison

2012

In 2012, I tried the scatter method of sowing seeds, where you literally scatter seeds on the bed by hand.  I grew Ruby Red, Simpson Elite, Rougette de Montpellier & Salad Bowl, sowing the seeds on August 21st.
 
Salad Bowl was a complete failure with zero germination.  Although the rest of the seeds germinated, the resulting harvests are not even worth tabling as the remaining 3 varieties only produced a total of 382 grams.  Considering they occupied 9 sq. foot of space, that’s an average of 42 grams per sq. ft – less than 2 ounces.  Pretty pitiful.
 
I was also not impressed with the scatter method - the thinning required seemed endless.  Yes you can eat the thinnings, but it was just too much of a pain.  You need to pick a LOT of thinnings for even a smallish salad for one and, more often than not, I need to pick a big salad that serves four.
 
The most important thing I learned that year, however, was that I could grow lettuce into the late fall months.  I used a double row cover over the bed as of October 11th.  Although the lettuce didn’t grow very much over the next few weeks, we did continue to pick leaves sparingly.  The harvest continued until November 12th!  Even when the leaves froze, so long as it wasn’t an extended freeze, they were just fine when the weather warmed up a bit.  The trick was not to pick frozen leaves but wait for them to thaw out on the plant before harvesting.

2013

In early May 2013, I once again tried to direct sow, although instead of scattering the seed, I spaced them a couple of inches apart to reduce the amount of thinning.  But 10 days later, there was no germination.  I was pretty disappointed.  I then decided to start the seeds indoors.  There was lots of trial and error before I found the almost foolproof method of starting lettuce seeds indoors which I talked about in THIS POST.  I used this method again this year with outstanding results.

 
 

I did try to do a fall planting of lettuce in the third week of August, sowing directly outdoors, but it was a complete failure with barely any germination.  Was it because of slugs, earwigs, not enough moisture?  I have no idea.  Obviously, for me, transplants are the way to go when it comes to lettuce.  So I didn’t have any fall lettuce last year, which I’m sure was missed once September/October rolled around.

 
Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year

This was a very good lettuce year.  At times, I had a hard time keeping up with the harvest.



Mounds of Lettuce under the Row Cover in Mid-June
 
We definitely do not need more than 12 sq. feet of lettuce, especially during the summer when other veg like tomatoes take over the salad plate.
 
Pinares & Sierra MI are the first to be added to next years list.  I found Royal Red & Simpson Elite to be fairly similar in terms of taste & texture - we liked them both.  But since Royal Red was so incredibly productive, that is the one that I will be growing again next year.  I'll set aside the Simpson Elite seeds for now, opting to use the space to try a couple of new varieties instead.

Ruby Red was very similar to Royal Red in terms of colour & flavour, but nowhere near as prolific.  Rougette de Montpellier was the least favourite having a slightly bitter edge, even when young.  Both of these varieties will be dropped.

I was so busy this year that I didn’t sow any lettuce in late summer and, of course, I ended up regretting it once the tomato plants were pulled.  I have to do a better job on the fall lettuce next year & hopefully I’ll be able to extend the harvest into October/November, like I did in 2012.

I made a note in 2012 that the fall sowing should have been done a couple of weeks earlier so that it sized up a bit more before the cold weather set in.  But since my fertilization methods were significantly beefed up this year, I’ll probably maintain the same sowing date for a fall crop next year & see how it does.

Till next time...


“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

4 comments:

  1. Another great review! Sierra has become one of my favorites lettuces too, esp. for summer growing. I still like Simpson Elite for wilting, even if it doesn't make as much total weight. I also tend to like upright growers like Radichetta because I can plant them a bit closer. There are so many lettuce varieties it is tough to pick and choose!

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    1. It is definitely a challenge to choose among so many different varieties - much the same problem I have with tomatoes & peppers.

      So long as I have my standby winners, I actually don't mind too much when one or two varieties don't do well since I then get to try something new without feeling that I'm missing out.

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  2. Impressive review. I agree that sowing inside beats the heck out of outdoors. Your lesson about the scattering and thinning will be noted. I am terrible at thinning, because I find it SO tedious..... Glad I"m not the only one. Sowing into flats/6 packs worked so well for me in summer when you really need to be able to keep them moist and protected from the intense sun. I will be doing it in spring as well this year. So much easier to keep an eye on!
    And I love that you also use the fabric for a shade cloth. Handy stuff, it is!!
    :)

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    1. I'm with you on thinning in general - let me tell you it didn't take long for me to figure out my preference on that one! I only thin when I HAVE to, like with carrots.

      Ahhh row covers. I remember when I purchased my first one from the hardware store. They only had one size, I think it was around 5' x 12' or so. At the time, I couldn't see myself using it on more than one bed every once in a while, so that seemed about right. Fast forward to this past spring and I'm standing at the checkout of a local seed house holding a 100' roll ;)

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