Archive for the ‘lettuce’ Tag

Gardening Tips for Fresh Salad Veggies

 

During the winter, I like to tap into my stores of canned and pickled vegetables from my garden. However come spring, there is nothing I enjoy more than harvesting fresh vegetables to make a big, garden fresh salad. (Yes, real men do eat salads.) If you are a salad lover, too, here are some tips for your garden.

Plant greens in April- April is a great time to plant salad green such as lettuces, spinach, kale, and even broccoli. These plants all do well with warm days and cool nights.

Space out your sowings- Lettuce and other salad greens grow very quickly. So you can continuously sow lettuce seeds throughout the spring to have a fresh supply for several weeks. Try planting lettuce seeds every three weeks or so throughout the spring. Take a break during the hot summer months, then continue planting lettuce seeds again in the late summer.

Plant fast-growing radishes- Radishes are excellent for those who are looking for a bit of (practically) instant gratification. They go from seed to harvest quite quickly, and are great for a variety of applications, (as you may remember from my radish blog from last year). Green onions are another fast growing salad crop.

Plant a variety of greens- Don’t stop at predictable Bibb lettuce and Iceberg lettuce. Try something a little different, such as my favorite Red Salad Bowl lettuce. The leaves are large and crisp, and a pretty deep scarlet bronze color. Don’t forget about the super nutrient powerhouse spinach, too. A great variety here is Giant Nobel spinach, which is a very reliable producer of large, smooth leaves.

Remember to water- When you plant greens, make sure to keep their soil moist so that they do not develop a bitter flavor. All leafy greens crave water– but don’t give them so much that the soil becomes swampy.

Harvest strategically- When you harvest lettuce and spinach leaves, cut the leaves off about 2-3 inches from the base of the plant. This way, the plant will produce new leaves, and you can get several harvests from the same plant.

Harvest in the morning- Lettuce and other leafy greens are sturdy and crisp first thing in the morning. If you harvest in the evening, after an entire day of stress, the leaves are more likely to be wilted and tired.

Thin your seedlings- Once you have planted your lettuce seeds, the lettuce plants may come up crowded together. In this case, it is best to pull out some of these seedlings. This is a process referred to as “thinning,” and it will help to insure that your remaining plants have enough room to grow. Once your seedlings have sprouted, thin them to be about 2 inches apart. The good news is that you can eat the baby greens from the seedlings that you have to pull.

Check for snails at night- Slugs and snails may try to eat your salad greens. Your best defense in an organic garden is to check your garden at night, and simply pull snails and slugs off with a gloved hand.

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Can I Plant Anything During the Winter?

When you see the term “winter crops,” what this refers to is actually crops that can be harvested, not sown, in the winter. I realize this terminology can be a bit misleading. If you were to google “winter crops” in hopes of finding some things that you can plant right now, your search would actually reveal a list of things that you probably should have planted 3 months ago.

Depending on where you live, there are some things that you can actually plant during the winter. Now if you live in Wyoming, obviously your ground is frozen rock hard right now and you’ll need to stay inside with some hot tea before you are able to get your hands dirty out in your garden. If you live in a cold climate and wish to grow food during the winter, you may want to explore indoor container gardening, or gardening in a greenhouse. A row of herbs in pots on a windowsill can grow well, even in the winter. But if you live in a warm climate, such as zone 9 or 10, you have a good variety of options.

Check out this graph at Digital Gardener, for example. It reveals that there are several different crops that can be planted in Southern California in December, such as beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, and turnips.

Now if you do not live in a warm climate, now is the time to let your garden hibernate, and perhaps focus on different activities within your garden other than sowing seeds. One that I particularly enjoy is filling all of my bird feeders and watching birds flock to my garden. For the winter I like to use nyjer seeds, which are high in calories and help birds to stay full during these times when food is scarce.

Winter is also the time when I concentrate on maintenance. I will take the time to make sure that all of my tools are clean and oiled. I will continue to check my garden for rotted plants and pests. I will also continue to add compost to my compost heap, and turn it regularly.

The first winter planting that I will do will be around February, and that will be when I plant lettuce. Now I now you are thinking, “didn’t you just plant lettuce in August?” Yes, I did. But that is the great thing about lettuce. Alth0ugh you cannot can or pickle it, it is a cool season crop. So if you plan it correctly, you can have fresh lettuce practically all year. Lettuce seedlings cannot handle a hard freeze, but they can handle a light frost. Ideally, high temps should be around 60 and low temps should be around 40 when you plant lettuce seeds. So depending on where you live, this could be as early as January or as late as March.

Regardless of the climate in which you live, December is a great time of year to start planning for spring planting. Take inventory of your seeds. Organize an heirloom seed swap with other local gardeners. Map out your spring garden, and decide what you want to plant where. Make lists of any new tools you will need to purchase before prime planting season begins, such as a rain barrel or a new hose. Start preparing to plant any bulbs you have that must go through a cold germination process. This way, you will be well prepared and ready to begin when prime planting season begins.

Get in the Zone

About a month and a half ago, I blogged about planting lettuce in my garden, since it is a crop that does particularly well in cool fall weather. Where I live in Virginia, early September normally starts to bring about drier weather and chillier night temperatures, and therefore cooler soil. But depending on your climate, how do you know when to plant your cool season crops?

The key factor in deciding when to plant fall vegetables is considering when you normally get your first frost. You should plant your fall crops so that they mature and may be harvested before the danger of frost sets in. Pay attention to the information that comes on your seed packets in regards to how many days the vegetable needs to reach maturity. For example, in addition to lettuce, I also like to plant another good fall veggie, beets. Each year, I plant the Detroit Dark Red Beets from my Survival Seed Bank. These take about 60 days from planting to harvest. In Norfolk, we usually receive our first frost around October 26. Because of this, I know that the latest I can plant my beet seeds is August 27. I just start at October 26 and count backwards.

When deciding when to plant fall trees, shrubs, and perrenials, it is very important to consider the plant hardiness zone in which you live. North America is divided into 11 different zones based on average low temperatures. Zone 1 is the coldest, and zone 11 is the warmest. The term “hardy” or “hardiness” means that a particular plant has the ability to endure winters in a particular zone. Here in Norfolk Virginia, I live in zone #8. Low temperatures here can reach 10 to 20 degrees F, so in order to a plant to be hardy to this zone, it must be able to survive these low temperatures.

If you live in a warmer zone, such as zone 10, your temperatures may pretty much never reach freezing, which means that you can plant a lot of things that wouldn’t survive in cooler temperatures. However, it also means that you probably need to specifically look for tropical plants and those that thrive in your hot climate.

So how can you apply this “zone” information when selecting seeds and seedlings, and determining when you plant them? Well, as you read your seed packets and plant labels, you will undoubtedly see information that pertains to zones. Most plants will list a range of zones that they can tolerate, such as zones 5-9, so it is best to know your zone and pay attention to these warnings. To find out what your climate zone is, go to this Backyard Gardener website and type in your zip code.

Okay, now that you know your zone, don’t deny it. There is no guarantee that a plant will live or die based on following the planting instructions for your climate zone, but it does give you a much better shot at success. When you think about it on a base level, you can consider that there is definitely a reason that you don’t see palm trees growing and thriving in Minnesota. Different plants just have different climate needs.

‘Tis Almost Time to Plant Lettuce

 

There are two times of year that are the best times to plant lettuce and other greens: the first is in early spring, and the second is in late summer. Many gardeners miss this end-of-the-season chance to plant lettuce and harvest a fall crop. But I’ll tell you, it is an opportunity that should not be missed. Lettuces such as butterhead, loose-leaf,  and romaine grow very well when planted during the last week of August. In fact, I am convinced that the sweetest and most tender lettuce leaves I have ever harvested have come from my fall crop.

By this time of year, I have been harvesting quite a bit of lettuce throughout the season. I use the “cut and come again” method of harvesting lettuce, which means that I pick only the outer leaves, and therefore can harvest again from the same plant in just a few days. Alternately, when you pick lettuce, you can harvest a plant only once by cutting off the entire head at the ground. Regardless of which harvesting method you use, lettuce is a great crop to plant because you can harvest a great deal before the plants go to seed, (which, with lettuce and spinach, is known as bolting.)

My favorite lettuce varieties are… drumroll please…

Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different head and loose-leaf varieties of lettuce and salad greens. My personal favorites are the Red Salad Bowl Lettuce, a wonderful deep-lobed bronze loose-leaf lettuce, and Susan’s Red Bibb Lettuce, a curly red and green loose-leaf lettuce with a very mild flavor. Both of these varieties are heirloom lettuces that I received in my Survival Seed Bank. In addition to being quite tasty, a plus is that they are not as delicate and fragile as many lettuces, and they are slow to bolt, therefore they produce a large number of crisp leaves every season.

In terms of lettuce, both of my favorites are rather slow to grow. They take about 50-60 days until harvest, while some types of lettuce are ready in only a couple weeks. Fortunately, this year I harvested most of my spring-planted lettuce in early July, before the grueling heat wave hit Virginia, (and the majority of the country.) Lettuce generally thrives in cooler temps, whereas temperatures in the 90s, such as those that we have been experiencing lately, cause lettuce leaves to wilt and rot. Loose-leaf lettuce does a bit better in hot weather than head lettuce varieties do. But with temps close to 100 lately, I think that even my Red Salad Bowl and Susan’s Red Bibb Lettuces wouldn’t be looking so cheery. They definitely prefer weather on the milder side. This is why I find it best to plant once in the spring, and once again at the end of summer or beginning of fall. While plenty of my crops, especially my tomatoes, love high temps and a surplus of sunlight, lettuce does not thrive in these conditions.

As you prepare to plant a late summer lettuce crop, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Lettuce likes full to partial sun, and should be planted in a spot where it will be sheltered from the wind.
  • Greens thrive best in raised beds. It is very important to ensure that you plant greens, any greens, in soil that drains well. If the soil is swampy, your leaves will be bitter. Before planting, prepare your soil by mixing in plenty of compost and peat moss. This will ensure that it drains well.
  • Good natural fertilizers for lettuce and other greens are blood meal and bone meal.
  • Do not use insecticides on greens. Their leaves are too delicate and you will just burn them out.
  • Do not overcrowd your lettuce plants, otherwise the heads will be very small and will not fully develop. Make sure to follow directions on your seed packets in regards to planting. Red Salad Bowl Lettuce, when given enough room to thrive, can grow up to 16 inches wide.
  • Keep your seed beds moist- do not allow them to completely dry out.
  • If you experience an Indian Summer in September or October, mulch around your lettuce seedlings to help keep them cool.
  • If there is danger of frost on a cool autumn night, protect your lettuce plants with a plastic tent, or a plastic milk jug with the bottom cut off over each individual seedling.

What Can I Plant in March?

If you’re like me, you’re ready to go outside and get your hands dirty at the very first sign of spring each year. This year, my spring fever set in a little bit earlier than usual, which I am certain is due in part to the passing of a particularly long, snowy, and arduous winter.

Now those icy months spent cooped up inside are finally coming to a close, and it’s time to till some fresh earth! Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a warm climate, however, you may feel the need to proceed with caution. Although buds are beginning to appear, temps remain a bit frosty. Here in Norfolk, Virginia, the weather tends to still be pretty cool this time of year. High temperatures are only in the 40s, and lows hover right around freezing.

The good news is that despite the fact that the chill is not yet gone from the air, there are many types of plants that do well in late winter and early spring. In fact, some crops can be both planted and harvested before hot weather comes around. Here are some types of vegetables that fare well when planted in March:

1. Radishes– Radishes are an excellent option for the gardener who is seeking a bit of instant gratification. After you plant them, they can be ready to harvest in as little as about three weeks! Several different varieties of radishes grow well when planted in the early spring, including Burpee White, Champion, Cherry Belle, Easter Egg, Early Scarlett Globe, Snow Belle, and Plum Purple. Radishes grow well in almost any soil that is prepared properly, is fertilized before planting, and has adequate moisture. Sow your radish seeds in soil that is 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.

2. Spinach- Spinach is another plant that grows well from seeds during this time of year. The results are not quite as quick as radishes, but still speedy, as spinach will be ready to pick and eat in about 48 days. Olympia and Bloomsdale varieties tend to be the most popular for spring planting. Plant your spinach seeds in rows, and space them about 1/2 to 1 inch apart. Cover them very lightly with just about 1/2 inch of soil. Make sure to water them because spinach loves moist soil. Don’t water them too heavily, however, as this can wash the seeds out or cause them to sink too low into the soil.

3. Lettuce- With fresh spinach and fresh lettuce, you’ll have the makings for a delicious springtime salad! Sow your lettuce seeds in a thin layer of just about 1/2 inch of soil. Leave a good 10-12 inches of soil between your rows. So that not all of your lettuce is mature at the same time, you may wish to stagger your rows by several days. This way, you can have successive rows of fresh lettuce for several weeks, rather than harvesting it all in one weekend. Depending on the type of lettuce you plant, it will be ready to harvest within about 6 to 14 weeks.

4. Carrots- Carrots are best planted after the final frost, so you may wish to wait until the end of March to plant your carrots. (Now mind you, you can always start your seeds indoors or under glass, but so far we’ve been discussing only direct outdoor seeding.) Carrots will be ready for harvest in about 80 days.

5. Peas- Peas are a real springtime champ. In fact, of there’s just one vegetable that you decide to sow in March this year, I’d say make it peas. They are tolerant of the cool temperatures and light frosts that still occur at this time. Early plantings also usually produce a larger yield. Your peas should be planted in single rows with about 1 inch of soil cover, and will be ready for harvest in about 60 days.