heading lettuces, with their mosaic of colors, textures and leafy
rosette shapes is one of the most rewarding aspects of having your
own kitchen garden. Unfortunately, many of us have grown up
identifying head lettuce only with the rock hard commercial iceberg
and its pale water filled leaves. While there are, in fact, some
quite nice home garden iceberg varieties, a large and very diverse
world of other heading lettuces are available to grow from seed.
They are well worth exploring for great flavor and beauty and offer
the utility of extending the garden season in both directions.
"Heading" is a general and rather ambiguous
term in describing lettuce forms, which can included everything from
a tight, semi-solid heavy vase of crispy Romaine lettuce leaves, to
softly folded, leafy rosettes of tender succulent butterhead leaves.
Leaf textures range from firm and crunchy to melting and buttery on
the tongue, and colors are available from pale lime green to deep
burgundy bronze and cool weather in spring or fall will bring out
red hues to advantage. Within this wide array of choices there are
three fairly distinct categories of heading lettuces to consider in
planning your salad beds.
Romaine: Most familiar are the Romaines, whose broadly oblong, upright
leaves cluster around thick, juicy full flavored hearts. Romaine
leaves are sweet and crunchy with lots of substance. They hold up
well to heavy dressings or in sandwich use; in Middle Eastern and in
many Asian cuisines they are used as edible food wrappers or
servers. Commercial Romaines are being bred for large size and
weight (the current nationwide popularity of Caesar salads featuring
romaine has put a new premium on large scale production) and
supermarket varieties can often have tough, rather leathery huge
leaves. In your own garden, you can plant more tasty varieties of
these sturdy heading lettuces. You'll find our fine heirloom Romaine included in the "Caesar Duo" for an
excellent variety of texture and shape and flavor.
Container "Garden Babies"
Sweetie Baby Romaine
these great recipes
from Renee's cookbooks:
Try these great recipes from
Creamy Parsley Salad Dressing
Fresh Orange Salad Dressing
Sesame Salad Dressing
Batavians: The second general category of heading lettuces are the
Batavians. Long popular as fresh market lettuces in Western Europe,
especially in France, this beautiful and luscious class of lettuces
is not yet grown for commercial distribution here in the U.S.
Fortunately, kitchen gardeners can sample the very best Batavian
varieties by buying seed. Batavians combine the sweet crispness of
Romaine with a more open butterhead like shape. Many Batavians are remarkably
resistant to hot weather bolting and their crispy leaves can be harvested from
baby to full size plants. Color and leaf shape differ depending on variety, but
all Batavians start out in an open broad leafed cluster and mature into a
compact dense rosette of colorful substantial leaves. Use them in salads and
sandwiches and as a flavorful crispy lettuce to shred for Mexican tostadas and
taco salads or for combining with grapefruit sections, berries, sweet onions,
ripe avocados or all kinds of cooked. Finely bred by the French, our "Blush
Batavians" forms weather resistant rosettes of big, tender leaves in
handsome big heads that look for all the world like a leafy rose. The crunchy
leaves are handsome reds and greens and combine flavor and excellent garden
Merveille De 4 Saisons
is an especially weather tolerant butterhead.|
Depending on what part of the country you live in, the third
category of heading lettuces may be called by different names.
Whether you think of them as Butterhead, Bibb, Boston or Limestone
lettuces, these softly folded, smooth leafed, lighter green rosettes
are becoming increasingly popular all around the nation for their
flavor and texture. In Europe, they are definitely the lettuce of
choice, outselling all others. Butterhead types can form loose open rosettes on tighter semi-solid heads with
rich textured, undulating leaves prized for delicate texture and
melting flavor. Don't overwhelm their delicacy with heavy, strong
flavored commercial dressing simple quickly assembled
vinaigrettes are best. Butterheads also pair nicely with
fruity vinegar's and soft cheeses. Our container "Garden Babies"
have a lovely, buttery texture and sweet taste, are slow to bolt and make
compact 5-6 inch heads. Our
offers you three wonderful choices in one packet.
Your Heading Lettuce: While it is certainly possible to grow good lettuce from seed
sown directly into the garden, I get my best results starting seed
in flats or containers. This way, I can keep the seeds evenly moist
while they are germinating. Once they are up and growing, I can tend
them carefully, protected from weather swings and pesky birds and
insects while they are tiny and vulnerable. Use containers at least
2 inches deep filled with a good soilless seed starting mix.
Sprinkle seeds thinly, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, cover lettuce
seed lightly and keep evenly moist. Germination is best at cool
temperatures of 60˚ to 70˚F. After emergence in a week to
10 days, keep seedlings evenly moist. After several weeks, when they
are several inches tall, transplant into the garden in finely
prepared soil 4 to 6 inches apart. Do a final thinning to 12 inches
apart when plants are 4 to 5 inches tall and enjoy the young
succulent seedlings as your first rewards. This final thinning is
important, as heading lettuces need proper spacing to grow to big
beautiful heads. Do plan to do a late summer planting because fall
grown lettuce stands beautifully without threatening to bolt or get
bitter once the weather has cooled down.
you plant it, be certain to keep lettuce evenly moist to encourage
even growth and sweet flavored leaves. Fertilize several times
during the growing season with a dilute (1/2 strength) solution of
fish emulsion and liquid kelp/seaweed to encourage leafy growth.
Keep pesky birds from eating young lettuces by covering them with
row cover or stringing reflective foil tape above the lettuce bed.
If you see evidence of their damage, hand picking earwigs, slugs and
snails rigorously after dark for 4 or 5 days when they are active is
usually an effective way to deal with these pests. Otherwise, bait
around the edges of the bed. If a spell of hot weather hits, or you must plant in hotter
than desirable conditions, suspend shade cloth above the lettuce bed
to protect the plants (available from garden centers) I've even used
a big sun umbrella in an unexpected heat wave last spring. Keep the
bed carefully watered. If weather continues very hot, plan on
harvesting early when summer has really come on. When days begin to
bake to 90˚F. range, finish eating your spring lettuce crop and
wait until late summer to begin planting again.
most kinds of seeds can be stored for several seasons lettuce seed
is not a reliable keeper because it does not always hold its
germination rate. If you do wish to keep extra seed, store it inside
in a cool, dry place and plan to sow seed a little thicker the
second season. Discard if you do not use after 2 seasons.
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