Genuine Faux Farm

 

 

 


LETTUCE and GREENS


lettuce in cage

Above is an example of one of the cages we use to try to exclude deer. We don't have nearly enough of these cages - so we lose some to the deer on and off as it is. In this cage is a mix of heirloom variety lettuce that we grew in 2008.

A few terms or notes for the interested:

Heads of lettuce: When we refer to 'heads' of lettuce, we are referring to ONE plant. We are not claiming that the variety is a head lettuce. Most of our varieties are looseleaf, butterhead, crisphead, batavian or romaine. Do not confuse this term with the heads of lettuce that are in the iceberg family (something we do not grow).

Holding qualities in the field: When we make a note that a variety holds well in the field, we are indicating that plants will be of harvestable quality over a longer period of time without bolting or getting bitter. Some types, such as Gold Rush, tend to need picking over a short period of time once they reach mature size. Others, such as Crispmint, can easily maintain quality for periods up to three weeks. Many lettuces will hold in the Fall during the shorter days and cooler weather. Holding quality is shorter in the Summer months.

Lettuce that has bolted

Bolting: Lettuce is said to 'bolt' when the plant begins to tower (or get tall with a heavy stem) in an effort to produce seed. For many varieties, bolting occurs when the weather is too warm for the cultivar. In some cases bolting will be promoted when plants are too close or weed pressure is high. Competition can force bolting. Lettuce that 'bolts' typically has a taste that is more bitter than lettuce that has not bolted. This does not mean the lettuce is not edible, it just means that taste is not at a peak and may not be tolerable for many persons. Some lettuces, such as Grandpa Admires and Australian Yellow Leaf, tend to have thicker stalks and may give the appearance of bolting before the quality is greatly changed. We often will taste a variety in the field prior to picking it to make sure it does not have a bitter aftertaste. If it does, we will use that as a benchmark to determine which others of that type are no longer marketable. The good news is that turkeys and chickens like lettuce even after it has bolted or gotten bitter.

Lettuce Growing Hints:

  1. We prefer starting our plants in flats and then we transplant them. From our perspective, this saves us time in the form of labor and insures a better crop for each planting. If you have a home garden, direct seeding is fine - but you need to be prepared to thin your planting AND be deligent about weeding when plants are at seedling stage. For our scale, we find thinning and weeding at seedling stage to be too labor intensive to maintain.
  2. On the other hand, persons who grow microgreens or salad mixes might find that direct seeding is preferable to transplants. In that case, you need to watch the soil temperature. If it gets too warm, you will want to abstain from planting the seed.
  3. Stagger plantings of lettuce to extend your season. We start new flats every two weeks during the growing season. Our plantings get closer together in the Fall when one week can mean greater differences in maturity dates.
  4. Don't forget to grow some lettuce for harvest in the fall. Fall lettuce can be some of the sweetest since the plants are 'finishing' during cool weather rather than 'starting' in the cool and finishing in warmer weather.
  5. Many varieties can overwinter with a little bit of cover help. Get your plants to about two or three inches in height, but try to avoid getting them bigger than that. They will begin to grow again in March once the days lengthen. Often, plants will be full size by April.
  6. We like to plant our lettuce in beds that are the size of a walk behind tiller width (a little over 2 feet wide). We plant two rows and plants are put in about 4-5 inches apart within rows.
  7. Summer plantings can benefit from afternoon shade. The picture above shows a planting to the East of sunflowers. The trick is finding an optimal spacing between these two items.

lettuce by sunflowers

Lettuce Harvest Ideas:

  1. Use a sharp knife to cut your lettuce at the bottom of the 'head'. A clean cut may encourage regrowth in some varieties (if that interests you). We use a double edged lettuce knife and don't know what we did without it in the past.
  2. Get your greens in out of the sun as quickly as you can to avoid wilting.
  3. Immerse your greens in cold water (we have a deep well) as soon as possible. Leave them in the water for at least 30 minutes to get the field heat out of the crop. Get as much water out of the plant as you can without getting too agressive on removal from the bath. Some people will use 'salad spinner' equipment to spin the water out of the plants. We keep our lettuce heads intact and find that they are hold well even without spinning. We will occassionally pull apart the head if cleaning necessitates it - especially if there is an aphid hatching.

VARIETY DESCRIPTIONS


Grandpa Admires

looseleaf/buttercrunch

Grandpa Admire's Lettuce

One of our favorites to grow, harvest and eat. This variety is more heat tolerant than most, so it usually appears in our CSA shares in July and even August. It also grows just fine in the fall, but it tends to have much more red in it at that time and is much more compact. The taste is likely a bit sweeter in the Fall as well. Large leaves with a softer texture. Excellent for sandwiches. If it gets a little 'wilty' in the fridge after a week, revive it with a quick soak in cold water. If you don't like softer lettuces, you won't like Grandpa Admires. If you don't like 'harder' lettuce textures, you'll love this one. We were surprised how well this variety did in the high tunnel, with decent heads holding until December. We have not tried to overwinter this variety.


Crispmint

romaine

Crispmint LettuceCrispmint lettuce

Crispmint is our all season romaine. It holds up pretty well in the summer months, though the edges might brown. We've overwintered these under a low-tunnel (plastic) and they take off once the weather warms in March. These produce big (1/2 to 1 lb) heads that are very crisp. CSA members have given a strong 'thumbs up' on taste for this variety since it was introduced. There are claims that the leaves get sweeter the closer to the center you get - and like most romaines, that can be ALOT of leaves. A reliable crop, enjoyable to pick, impressive to put on the market/CSA table and they hold in the field extremely well. This is one we most highly recommend for all purposes. We have noticed that romaines at full size do not hold as well in a high tunnel, with outer leaves breaking and dying and inner leaves freezing and staying frozen. It's in the nature of the plant. But, small plants will overwinter just fine.


Bronze Arrowhead

looseleaf/oakleaf

Like most lettuces, Bronze Arrowhead does well in the cooler months (in fact, we have picked this variety as late as December 10 in the field). However, it does tend to handle warmer weather well and it holds in the field. That makes this variety one of our early summer (last June/early July, late August/early September) lettuce crops. Nice looseleaf that has varying degrees of red/bronze coloration dependent on the weather during its growth. Taste is variable, with a stronger taste in summer months that many (but not all) persons will appreciate. If you cut it just above ground level, it will grow back. Second flush of leaves will not 'head' and has a stronger taste. But, if you want to extend your lettuce season without multiple plantings, this will do the trick. This one handled the cold weather in the high tunnel extremely well and will overwinter under cover is you get them to about 2 inches tall in the fall. We're not finding many limitations on this variety. We do find that the Seed Savers strain seems to be most reliable.


Australian Yellow Leaf

looseleaf

Australian Yellow Leaf lettuce

This is one of our summer lettuces that is very slow to bolt and produces very impressive heads with very large leaves. Soft leaves, generally mild flavor. This, and Grandpa Admires are two lettuces that are fun to grow, beautiful to look at, can get some good size (so make sure you transplant with a little extra space - or thin - to prevent bolting), and if you put transplants in rather than direct seeding, you can get very nice reliable crops. We have noticed that heavy rains or winds tend to make these plants look "sad" with the large outer leaves laying down (on the ground or drooping). At this point, you need to pick this crop before the leaves lose their quality. They will look fine (and taste great) once picked, soaked and given a quick shake to get the leaves to realign (one of the things you can do with a soft leaf). If left too long, you can still pick the smaller leaves off the top. The lower leaves will lose their marketability (but will taste good enough in your own salad).


Amish Deer Tongue

looseleaf

Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce

This lettuce is a little harder to describe because it is very different than many we grow. The leaves have a spinach-like texture, and that texture suggests spinach enough that some people might detect a hint of spinach taste. But, we're not sure if that's inferred or actual. The taste and texture are just different enough that they add interest to a salad with more commonly known lettuces. Plants are compact and tough. Probably a better cool season lettuce as they don't hold long in warmer weather. Note: don't plant too close or you'll get tall/thin plants that aren't as full as they can or should be. Crowding do to overplanting or weeds will encourage bolting. And, unlike other lettuce, storm damaged leaves don't just 'melt' away as the plant grows through the damage. As a result, storm damaged plants are often difficult to market because of their looks. We expected these to do well in the high tunnel and they did do well enough. But, like a romaine, they don't unfreeze like looseleaf lettuces might. So, target them for November to early December (at the latest) in Iowa, but don't try to push it too far or you lose quality. A good variety to add for different texture and taste in the salad.


Rouge d'Hiver

romaine

Rouge d'Hiver lettuce

This romaine type lettuce was a late add in 2008 and gave us some excellent production. Very attractive heads of lettuce with a distinctive romaine taste that is requested by many of our CSA customers. We have received excellent reviews for use in larger kitchens. If we wanted to process a large number of red lettuce leaves for a gathering, we would find these to be one of the easiest to work with. These romain heads aren't as full as some. In fact, this is a trademark of this romaine/cos variety. It holds it's leaves in a loose 'head' and is not dense as many have come to expect when you say "romaine lettuce." From a market perspective, they don't always stand out on the table as much as other varieties. On the other hand, the individual leaves are almost always attractive and the taste holds very well. We don't recommend trying to force this variety to grow outside of the normal Spring/Fall plantings. It has not shown great flexibility outside of the season, but we admit that we haven't experimented with Rouge D'hiver much either.


Forellenschus

romaine

Forellenschus Lettuce

A beautiful spotted leaf romaine that does a great job in the early summer months. Hitting the timing for a fall planting is a bit trickier than some. These produce full and often heavy (1#) heads of lettuce. They grow well during the summer - but you do have to watch to make sure they don't show signs of bolting - once they show any sign of it - they're going to go through the bolting process within 24-36 hours. Excellent all-around romaine. We have found that this lettuce may need an education component for sales. The brownish/purple spots are often misconstrued as 'bad spots' on the lettuce - much to the detriment of the seller (and the buyer who doesn't bother to ask, taste, or otherwise check out this variety). Once tried, people will ask specifically for this one. We did notice that this romaine handled life in the high tunnel better in December than the other varieties. It also overwintered well (get them to about 2-3 inches tall around Nov 5 and they'll hold there).


Pablo

French Batavia type

Pablo Lettuce

Pablo has rapidly become a favorite of ours. This variety forms loose heads as they approach maturity, but can be harvested younger as a leaf lettuce. They are longer season (60 to 70 days) and hold very well in the field. The biggest thing this variety has going for it is the taste. Many people reported taking tastes of the lettuce head as they prepared a salad, only to find that the entire head was eaten before the salad was fully prepared. Beautiful plants with big outer 'loose' leaves and a moderate sized 'head.' You can plant these relatively close and not have to worry about bolting. The only 'knock' on these plants is the relative fragility of the stems on the transplants. As a result, you will benefit from avoiding overcrowding each tray cell (so you don't have to tease seedlings apart and risk breaking them). If you direct seed, then you have to be careful about accidently breaking plants you want to keep when you thin. Good response to high tunnel growing in the fall. Not necessarily the best candidate to overwinter. These can also be a little harder to clean and prepare since they hold alot of water in the center.


Gold Rush

looseleaf

Gold Rush lettuce

This one is definitely a colder season lettuce. Once the daylight hours get longer and the weather gets warmer, it tends to bolt quicker than many of our varieties. On the plus side, it is very cold tolerant and doesn't show much damage after overnight freezes. It can be overwintered if covered and is a good candidate for late fall planting for early spring emergence. Very ruffled, light green leaves. Very attractive on sandwiches or salads. Tends to have a 'firmer' texture. Heads don't hold together as well as some varieties, but that means you won't get as much stalk as you will with others. Reasonably good high tunnel production in the fall. It is possible that they will hold longer than others, but they were all picked before we could test that theory. We did find that they host aphids better than most lettuces - even though it takes a while before the leaves are damaged. We have also noted that seed does not keep very well. So, don't buy too much extra and expect to use it the next season.


Red Salad Bowl

looseleaf

Red Salad Bowl lettuce

Red Salad Bowl and Grandpa Admires were two of the first heirlooms with which we had early success. We are convinced that Red Salad Bowl is at its absolute best in the fall - though early spring crops are also good. This variety has survived winters under cover and was picked as late as Thanksgiving in the field when it was given just a little row cover help. Frilly, deeply notched leaves that make a nice aesthetic companion with Gold Rush in a salad. It is not recommended that you try this during warmer parts of the season as its taste is not as good as in the fall. While it is supposed to resist bolting, we don't feel it holds as well as many other lettuces. Red Salad Bowl is an excellent candidate to overwinter under protection. Two to three inch tall plants maintain size until the weather warms in late February. We have been able to pick full sized heads in mid-April and full sized heads maintain quality into the high tunnel until Christmas.


Reine des Glaces (Ice Queen)

French Batavia type

Ice Queen lettuce

This is one of the prettiest lettuces we grow. Combine the fresh, light green color with the serrated edges of the outer leaves and compact loose head in the center and it looks magnificent. Texture is a bit crisper than some and these will hold well in the crisper. This variety did reasonably well in the summer months. Make sure you do not crowd this variety and keep the tall weeds away. Otherwise, these will lose their quality by "towering/bolting." Taste is good, but doesn't tend to stand out - but it has some tough competition in this group. It would do well against other varieties. Germination rates for seed seems to decline rapidly, so we get new seed each year and don't try to overwinter unused seed for the following season. We prefer to grow Ice Queen in the standard lettuce growing slots in Spring and Fall and we don't push the envelope too far into Summer or Winter.


Bunte Forellenschus

Buttercrunch/Looseleaf type

bunte forellenschus lettuce

Like Forellenschus (speckled trout) this lettuce has reddish brown spots. However, it is not a romaine. We used this variety in 2007 and 2008 with success, then the seed disappeared. We were pleased to see it reappear in 2012. Suffice it to say, things on our farm have changed a great deal since we grew it last so we are reevaluating where this lettuce fits. Give us 2013 to have a more informed opinion about it.

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Other Greens

 

Mustard: Green Wave - the only green mustard we have tried. But, it is truly a pretty plant and produces extremely well in the fall. Grows very quickly in Spring. Nice peppery taste. A stronger green that some might not like and others will love. The taste mellows with cooking. Reliable crops.

Mustard: Red Giant - these appeared in the Fall of 2012 for the first time. They grow just a little slower than Green Wave, but not by much. Leaves are a little 'tougher' and sparser on the plant, which is not necessarily a bad quality. When combined with Green Wave, they look wonderful. Complimentary mustard taste between the two.

Arugula: Apollo - a reasonbly mild arugula that seems to maintain a good quality even if the leaves get a bit bigger. This variety was not as readily avialable in 2012, which forced us to try others. We like the size of the plants since we tend to prefer harvesting larger greens rather than the smaller ones. Plants do a nice job of shading out weeds.

Arugula: Astro - we ran trials in 2012 and liked how Astro performed. Leaves are not consistently the same type with some looking more like Sylvetta with the notching and others like Apollo with no notching. We will run Apollo and Astro in 2013 and compare tastes.

Swiss chard Swiss Chard: Improved Rainbow Mix - we are only now beginning to appreciate chard and its flexibility. The white tends to grow fastest and orange seems to be least frequent. We may consider growing a second variety to increase our knowledge in this area - but we are perfectly happy with what we get with this one for the present.

 

Collards: Champion - these are probably an easier crop to grow in the fall, but we'll keep trying to find the timing for Spring. Champion came recommended and we have not been disappointed with it. If the desire for collards increases in our area, we will do more experimenting with varieties. But, for now, a single variety that does the job is enough.

Spinach: Bloomsdale - This is our favored variety. And, contrary to what we do with many vegetables, the only variety we currently grow. For a period of time, we grew other varieties, but Bloomsdale is most consistent in our soil and on our farm. It overwinters exceptionally well and has an excellent taste and texture. As with most spinach, it will bolt under weed pressure and in heat. Temps over 80 degrees Fahrenheit with any regularity tends to encourage it to go to seed. Fall harvested spinach is particularly sweet.

 

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Other greens we have tried:

Yugoslavian Red

Buttercrunch type

Yugoslavian Red was introduced on our farm in 2010. The results are not sufficient for us to say much about it. We can say that it is prone to bolting for any number of reasons (weed pressure, too much water, heat, plants too old in trays before transplant). We did manage to get a batch to overwinter in the high tunnel easily. The heads look magnificent and pick well. Clearly, these like drier, colder situations. On the other hand, we find its taste does not compete with the other varieties we grow. But, we also realize everyone has different tastes - and perhaps some folks will like this one. Certainly not horrible - but when you have extremely good tasting varieties to compete against... And, after giving it a second run in 2011 (we rarely give a trial only one year) we dropped it. Again, it bolted with little provocation. Head sizes were small and taste did not stand out. We wonder if those who grow salad mixes might like it more since they are not looking for full sized heads of lettuce?

Lettuce : Red Leprechaun - poor germination rates took this one off of our list. The romaine heads were huge and very attractive. But, when you plant a tray with 72 cells and get four plants... Maybe it was a bad seed batch?

Lettuce : Slobolt - A light green leaf lettuce that is supposed to be slow to bolt. We didn't think so.

Spinach :America - We're not sure if it is just us, but we really didn't notice enough difference between Bloomsdale and America to make us carry both. Bloomsdale seems a bit more consistent for us and bolts more slowly, so we went with Bloomsdale. Financially, the farm can save a little money if it buys more of one variety in bulk than less of two varieties. Still, we like diversity and will keep our eyes open. If you like America, good for you. It seems like a fine variety. It just lost in a head to head on our farm is all.

Arugula: Sylvetta - a lower growing arugula that covers the ground rapidly. Leaves are smaller and are heavily notched. If we were into growing microgreens or salad mixes, I suspect we would like it more. However, it seemed to us that the leaves were mostly stem and that didn't fit what we tend to like about arugula. Feedback from CSA members was neutral, so there didn't seem to be a need to keep it on board for 2013.

 

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updated 3/27/14