Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

I am trying to get into growing lettuce here on the California central coast (near Paso Robles). I've not been having much luck with what I've been doing so far. I am trying to grow loose-leaf lettuce (‘Salad Bowl’) but it doesn’t seem to grow very fast, and a lot of the seedlings that I grow don’t really do all that well once I transplant them. I have a small greenhouse, but I think it is too hot in there (I am growing peppers and tomatoes in there with some success). It gets pretty cold outside in my area—a little below freezing this time of year. I was thinking of setting up a small hoophouse where I can keep the temperature right around 50 or 60 degrees F, which, as I understand, is ideal for lettuce.

I saw George and Melanie Devault’s article, Lettuce Get Growing, which has a lot of good information.. I was wondering if there are any other tips or important points that you might be able to pass along. I've been into gardening for several years but am somewhat new to vegetable gardening.

Thanks very much!
Eric

 

George and Mel respond...

HI ERIC:

Yep, if your tomatoes and peppers are doing well inside the greenhouse, that's a pretty sure sign that your lettuce will be unhappy. Tomatoes and peppers like it hot, lettuce doesn't.

Rather than go to all the trouble and expense of a new hoophouse just for lettuce, you might consider putting hoops over your lettuce outside and covering the hoops with a floating row cover. That would probably give you enough frost protection overnight. Push the cover back during the day to help keep lettuce cool.

Hoops don't have to be anything fancy. We use pre-fab heavy wire bows, old plastic water pipe…and even the metal frames from old political campaign signs (in fact, they seem to be even more effective for this application).

Lettuce needs a goodly amount of water. We irrigate daily when weather is dry. Hand-watering works on small plots. We also use drip tape and mini sprinklers, which also help cool lettuce like misters in the grocery produce department. In summer, we also protect lettuce with shade cloth stapled to tomato stakes.

We always fertilize seedlings with fish emulsion before transplanting, then hit them again with it after setting them out. Extra work, but it seems to get them off to a quicker start and keeps them growing. Good soil and lots of compost help, too.

You might try a few different varieties to see what does best in your area. One of our favorite cut-and-come-again varieties is ‘Tango’. ‘Kalura’ is our favorite romaine. Jericho is more heat-tolerant.

We harvest everything on the young side for best taste, especially when fighting heat and drought.

Hope some of that helps. Happy growing!
George and Melanie Devault

 

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