February 3, 2009

PLANT LETTUCE EARLY – directly in the ground as soon as the soil can be worked; or start seeds indoors in cool soil. Move transplants into the garden a good month before the last frost is expected. Snow won’t hurt them, but a desiccating cold wind will. Plant them in a protected area, or use row covers.

  • Lettuce prefers soil that is high in humus, with plenty of compost and a steady supply of nitrogen to keep it growing fast. Use alfalfa pellets or a slow-release fertilizer.
  • If you live in an area where spring suddenly turns to summer, try slow-bolting lettuce varieties such as ‘Deer Tongue’ and ‘Oakleaf’. Dark-red varieties such as ‘Ruby’ and ‘Cerise’ do worse in hot weather because their red pigment absorbs more heat.
  • Lettuce will tell you when it needs water. Just look at it. If the leaves are wilting, sprinkle them anytime – even in the heat of the day – to cool them off and slow down the transpiration rate.
  • To plant a fall crop, create cool soil in August by moistening the ground and covering it with a bale of straw. A week later, the soil under the bale will be 10° F cooler than the rest of the garden. Sow a three-foot row of lettuce seeds every couple of weeks through the fall – just rotate the straw bale around the garden.

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