Grow Better Salads

Memories bubble up in spring. They just do. One of mine, spurred on by a conversation with Aubrey in the milk house, is of my dad's first lettuce harvest each spring. He would return from the garden, victorious, with a huge head of green butter lettuce, and I vaguely remember polaroid pictures taken to mark the occasion, with dates scrawled on them proudly announcing what day they were picked. These were big, beautiful heads, full of crunch and texture and flavor. Picture worthy, long before Instagram and Facebook. I have shaped Red Wagon, in part, so that all of you can recreate this small joy and feel the thrill of the first lettuce harvest. 

If you need a little help with your lettuce growing, here are some tips. There are three ways to grow lettuce:

  • For proper, full heads, transplant individual seedlings 10-12 inches apart. It is easy...grab a 4 pack, transplant it, water once a week or so. Wait a few weeks, and boom, like magic, you have 4 large, juicy heads of lettuce. The best varieties for head lettuce: Romaine, Red Batavian, Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Merveille des Quatre Saison, Green Buttercrunch, Red Buttercrunch, Nevada Summer Crisp, Reine des Glaces. 
  • For mesclun style lettuce that you cut at the baby stage, it is best to start from seed. We sell a few seed mixes that will give you a nice variety of texture and color. Make a shallow trench, sprinkle in seeds (about 4-5 seeds per inch), barely cover with soil, pat down firmly and keep well watered until germination. After that, water about twice a week. 
  • For picking mid-sized leaves over the course of a few weeks, plant seedlings 4-6" apart. Use two or three 4-packs for a good patch that will give you greens for a while. The best varieties for this are green leaf, red leaf, red oak, green oak, forellenschluss, Nevada summer crisp.

Lettuce likes cool temperatures, a fair amount of moisture and it will grow quickly with a little extra fertility in the form of compost, Compost Plus, or a small amount of an organic fertilizer such as Pro-Gro. Some lettuces are more tolerant of heat, and some go to seed fairly quickly once warm weather hits. We grow certain ones just for summer plantings. 

We grow 20 types of lettuce. My favorites for spring are Green Buttercrunch, Red Batavian, and Romaine - those are the ones I like to plant from mid-April to mid-June. Then for the summer plantings, mid-June to mid-August, I like Nevada Summer Crisp, Reine des Glaces, and Forellenschluss. In mid-August, I switch back to cooler weather varieties such as Merveille des Quatres Saison, Green Oak, and Red Oak. 

It is possible to harvest fresh salad greens from a Vermont garden from mid-May to mid-December by planting new seedlings or seeding a new row every two weeks or so. I try to plant at least one or two 4 packs of salad greens of some sort (escarole, radicchio, arugula or lettuce) every week. This way, they are never bitter or tough in texture. The key to good salads is small but regular plantings. My first planting of lettuce is usually around April 10th and my last is planting is usually September 10th or so. Once cold weather hits, the lettuce can just hold in the garden, and it does not go to seed. I like to make my last 2 plantings extra big - like 32 heads of lettuce, and that way, I can pick them all fall. That is my lettuce wisdom, for what it is worth, and wishing you all...

Happy gardening.

It feels especially good to have hands in dirt this spring.