Salad All Summer Long (and through fall too!)

by Ken Greene

Lettuce teach you how to grow and harvest lettuce all summer long and well into fall--even into winter.

And, if you've had trouble growing lettuce in the heat in the past, don't be bitter. There are a few ways to approach ensuring a long and sweet lettuce season.

Keep on sowing! Each lettuce sowing is good for a brief period. The earliest winter and spring sowings are good eating for about three weeks of harvest, while from late spring until mid summer, sowings are good for about two weeks each. Keep on top of things in late summer and you'll be well rewarded: August and September sowings usually stay fresh and delicious through December with minimal protection.

Here's how to keep your mid-summer lettuce from going bitter quickly:

Consider weekly sowings for baby lettuce salads. It's much easier to keep young lettuce healthy and tasty over its brief duration than to pamper big heads of lettuce all summer. It will take more space in your garden, as it is a direct-sown crop, but it's fast and satisfying. Each patch will provide two good harvests; after that, you'll do best to clean the bed and re-sow, as the quality of the regrowth will deteriorate. Time from sowing to harvest is 30-40 days. If aiming for full-sized heads, choose the right varieties. Romaines such as our Spotted Trout, for example, tend to do well in the heat, while most loose-leaf types do not.

Irrigate! Lettuce will remain tasty in heat only if it has enough water for its roots to stay cool and comfortable while its leaves bake in the sun. That said, be careful not too overwater, as lettuce is happiest when its roots are well moistened but its leaves are dry (too much foliage moisture invites disease).

Bitterness is reversible! Believe it or not, we've successfully transformed bitter lettuce plants into fresh, sweet salads. The key is catching the bitterness before your plants are anywhere near the bolting stage and then giving them several good soakings.