Tales from a writer who wants lettuce in winter

I love lettuce. However, I am never very successful growing it.

As the trees have grown taller around my house, the few places I was able to grow it have disappeared and I have had to attempt to grow it in pots with little success. I decided in 2019 to stop trying.

Last May when I bought my annual flowers, I threw in a pack of Great Lakes iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa “Great Lakes”) to complete a flat. I still have the gardener’s sense of hope despite my negative experiences.

When I gathered my pots to plant my iceberg lettuce, I found an old seed packet of mesclun lettuce and decided to plant them as well.

Through the summer, my lettuce nursery grew well, but slowly. I thinned my mesclun and replanted. I did not know at what point my Great Lakes iceberg plants would be in the “60 to 70 days until harvest” range when I bought and planted them, so I carefully tended to them hoping they would soon form large enough heads to harvest.

However, temperature and time got away from me yet again and while waiting just that little bit longer for my lettuce to get just a little bit bigger, it bolted.

My Great Lakes lettuce had gorgeous little blue, purple-colored flowers along tall stalks around 2 feet tall. One of my mesclun plants bloomed with lovely white violet-shaped flowers with purple streaks on a long spider-like stem. I had pots of unusual, pretty flowers but once again, no lettuce.

I decided to leave them in their pots and let them go to seed, hoping to harvest the seeds and try from scratch next spring. However, the seeds were so small I wasn’t able to harvest them. I left the fading plants in the pots until I cleaned up all my plants in the fall.

When I pulled the dead plants, I was surprised to see a nursery of little lettuce plants in the pots.

My little lettuce nursery sprouted in the warm weather we had this fall and gradually got used to the lower temperatures. Lettuce is a cool weather crop, which grows best at 60 to 65 degrees. While it can germinate at 35 degrees, the best temperature to germinate is between 70 to 75 degrees. If it is well-hardened to the cold, it can sustain colder temperatures.

They are now living in my unheated glass-enclosed side porch soaking up the weak sunshine, growing slowly. Waiting for me to harvest them before it became too cold for them outside. While I wait just l little bit longer for them to get just a little bit bigger… A gardener always has hope for the future! Maybe I’ll have lettuce in 2021.

For more on growing lettuce, go to http://go.osu.edu/growinglettuce.

Cubick is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.


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