|Sweetie Baby Romaine|
I think it's time for me to write a variety spotlight post about one of my favorite lettuces, perhaps my all time favorite lettuce if my harvest records are an indicator - Sweetie Baby Romaine. I try to restrict my spotlight posts to varieties that I grow time and again, tried and true favorites, and Sweetie Baby fits the bill. My detailed harvest records go back to January 1 of 2010, that's 5 complete years of weighing and tallying the vast majority of the vegetables that come out of my garden. Sweetie Baby shows ups every year - 6.7 pounds in 2010, 12.1 in 2011, 11 in 2012, 11.5 in 2013, and 8.3 in 2014. My interest didn't wane in 2014, I just expanded my interest in growing butterhead and other lettuces last year and there's just so much lettuce the two of us can eat, Sweetie Baby had to give some ground.
A look back through my blog before I started keeping harvest records indicates that I didn't grow Sweetie Baby or any other heading lettuces before 2010, all the lettuces I grew before that were cutting lettuce mixes. It's funny how you can keep serving up something that you think your spouse likes, after all they eat it without complaint time and again, and then finally they let you know that they prefer something else, in this case my husband's preference for crunchier lettuces like hearts of romaine, or tender butterhead lettuce, or even a wedge of iceberg (with blue cheese dressing!). Thus my abrupt shift from cutting lettuces to heading lettuces in early 2010. Of all the different varieties that I've tried over the past 5 years Sweetie Baby is the only one that I've grown every single year.
Shown above is my first planting and harvest of Sweetie Baby back in August of 2010. You can see that I spaced them a bit too close and that they were starting to bolt. My intention had been to thin them by harvesting the babies, leaving space for the rest of them to mature, but that didn't work since I didn't get around to the thinning part of the plan. It's a good thing that this variety lives up to the Sweetie part of it's name, it doesn't get bitter when it starts to send up it's flower stalk. Part of my evolution as a gardener has been to resist the temptation to plant everything that I manage to get to grow. In the past I just couldn't bear to toss out the excess plants that I started. These days, I select the best specimens to set out in the garden and the rest of them are given away or go into the compost.
Here's my current winter planting of Sweetie Baby, only 4 plants set out at the proper spacing. I resisted the temptation to grow a dozen or so plants so that I could grow other varieties of lettuce as well. That's a couple of butterhead lettuces on the right. This succession was sown into 4-inch pots on October 10 and set out in the garden on November 17. That may sound like a long time to wait for the lettuce to size up, but the days are short and the nights are cold and that really slows things down. My spring crop of Sweetie Baby was sown on January 17 and the first harvest was on April 28 at which time it was on the verge of bolting, which tells me that I need to get more seeds sown right away so that I could probably be harvesting again in early April.
I've got my fingers crossed that the current run of above normal temperature days don't give these the signal to bloom, they are just starting to form some nice hearts.
Sweetie Baby does well in a range of weather conditions, although it doesn't seem to like the hottest weather that we get here (which generally comes along in September and October), my intended fall crop this year became infested with powdery mildew and also bolted early. I think this fall's crop failure was because of a number of factors, for one it seemed that powdery mildew really ran rampant through the garden this year and I had the lettuce in a tunnel that restricted air circulation which may have worsened the PM infection. The weather also got to be quite hot just as the lettuce was maturing. My records show that I've had harvests every month of the year except January, but the bulk of the harvests have been from March through September. From the looks of it I'll be getting my first January harvests this year. This succession of plants sailed through the high 20ºF temperatures that settled on the garden a couple of weeks ago, but they are in a tunnel and also had added protection from a layer of frost cloth that I put on top of the tunnels.
Sweetie Baby is small as the name implies, it doesn't get to be as large as those huge heads that you find at the market. That's one of the things I like about it, one head is perfect for a generous salad for two if you use the outer leaves, and one head trimmed down to the heart makes a good serving for one person. Plus the small heads are much easier to store in the refrigerator if I need to clear out a patch.
If you are looking for seeds for Sweetie Baby that's the only downside to this variety, so far as I know the only source is Renee's Garden Seeds. Lucky for me Renee's is a local company so the seeds are carried by a number of local retailers.