Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2015 Year in Review - Lettuce and Other Greens

My favorite thing for lunch is a big green salad full of goodies from the garden. And my husband Dave also enjoys a dinner salad quite often, either a side salad or a substantial main course salad. So lettuce has become the #1 leafy green veggie that I grow. I harvested 35 pounds of it in 2015 and wish I could have harvested more. Here's a summary by variety:

Italienischer - 8 lb.
Michelle Batavian - 2.8 lb.
Reine des Glaces crisphead - 1.6 lb.
Rhapsody Butterhead - 8.2 lb.
Ruby Gem Romaine - 4.3 lb.
Sweetie Baby Romaine - 4.6 lb.
Winter Density Romaine - 6.3 lb.

Do you see a theme there? It's mostly heading lettuces, either romaine, butterhead, or crisphead. I used to grow a lot of cutting lettuces, usually a mix of different shapes and colors. Then one day Dave fessed up that what he really likes is crunchy lettuces like romaine or iceberg, and he really likes butterhead lettuces as well. Well, I like those too, but it always seemed like much more of a bother challenge to grow heading lettuces, but I took on the challenge. It's been a few years and I'm still learning.


Italienischer is a huge oakleaf type that has big thick midribs when the heads get to be mature and it's got enough crunch to keep Dave happy. I can also harvest it on a cut-and-come-again basis for my own lunch salads. It is a versatile, incredibly productive (look at that yield) and good tasting lettuce that seems to be well suited to my climate so it will be back this year. This heirloom variety is available from a lot of sources, my seeds came from Fedco.

Michelle Batavian
Michelle Batavian was a freebie packet of seeds that I couldn't resist because of the name. It was good but not outstanding so I'll be moving on to other varieties this year.

Reine Des Glaces
Reine des Glaces crisphead. What I got to mature properly was good, but it had problems with the leaves going bad as the heads matured. There's so many varieties of lettuce available to grow that I don't need to fuss with one that has a tendency to spoil before I harvest it - out it goes.

Rhapsody Butterhead

Rhapsody Butterhead has been a reliable producer in my garden. I keep coming back to it because it produces really good generous sized heads. Butterhead is a bit fussy about weather, but this one is worth it, I just have to resist the temptation to sow it when the weather warms up. It's also readily available coming from Renee's Garden Seeds which I can pick up at the local hardware store.

Ruby Gem Romaine
Ruby Gem is a gorgeous baby romaine lettuce. I harvested it both on a cutting basis and as small heads. It's delicious and easy to grow and easy for me to get seed for since it's another Renee's selection. Definitely a keeper.

Sweetie Baby Romaine
Sweetie Baby Romaine has long been one of my favorites. It produces small to medium sized heads of crunchy leaves. It is reliable through most of the year and is easy to grow. It lives up to it's name and doesn't get bitter even when it starts to bolt (like it is doing in the photo above). Another variety from Renee's.

Winter Density Romaine

Winter Density, is a somewhat loose headed romaine that can get to be quite large but is also good for cut-and-come-again harvests. The name is somewhat deceptive because it seems to thrive just about year round in my mild climate. Again, another unfussy variety that is well suited to my climate and our tastes so it stays in the lineup. The seeds for this heirloom are widely available and my seeds came from Fedco.

I would really like to be able to harvest lettuce through the year, but so far I've not been able to manage that. In 2015 I went without lettuce in August, October, November, and December. In 2014 it was January, February, August, and November. In 2013 there were 7 months with no lettuce harvests. I haven't harvested lettuce in August since 2011.

Heat was one obstacle in 2015, it was an unusually warm year. Another obstacle was a severe lack of gardening motivation in the fall. I just didn't get around to starting things for late fall and early winter harvests. I did get lettuce going in September which I thought it would carry me through October. But I went away for one week in mid October and was anticipating some nice salads when I got home because there was some lettuce just starting to form nice heads. But those little heads quickly shot up about 2 feet while I was gone. I hadn't counted on those heads blowing up so quickly. When the weather is cooler it seems like it takes forever for heads to form and then I'll have a 2 or 3 week window to harvest them before they thoroughly bolt. So, lesson learned, if I want salad in the fall I need to do more succession sowing of just a few heads every couple of weeks and perhaps try some more heat/bolt resistant varieties. We'll see, it seems I still have a lot to learn about lettuce before I can figure out a year round growing schedule.  More on that in my post about 2016 planned varieties...

The other problem I'm having is that I need to improve my record keeping. I've been spending a bunch of time going back through my notes trying to match the dates that I sowed seeds to the dates that I harvested those veggies. I've got a very detailed spread sheet for harvests, each harvest tallied on the day I picked it, summarized by Harvest Monday, further summarized by month, and then for the year. And I do keep track of when I sow and plant out, but that information is not well organized. So now I'm trying to modify my harvest spread sheet to show the dates that I sowed the seeds for a particular harvest. This will be particularly helpful for the veggies that I need to sow in successions, like lettuces and other salad greens, and other quick cropping things like radishes. It takes longer for them to mature when the days are short and cold and seemingly no time in the long warm days of summer. So I hope that matching up sowing and harvest dates for particular veggies will help me to figure out the intervals between successions.

Other Salad Greens. There are some other greens that I like to add to my salads to spice things up, including arugula, cress, mizuna, radish leaves, and mild chicories.

Speedy Arugula
My favorite "other" salad green is arugula, it's the one "other" green that I'll use alone as a basis for a green salad. After years of trying various varieties I've found one that I really love and that grows exceptionally well in my garden. Speedy arugula, as the name implies, is quick to produce a harvest. But it isn't a flash in the garden, once it gets going I can get quite a few harvests before it bolts and even when it starts to bolt the flavor isn't too spicy. It has serrated leaves which gives it the attractive appearance of wild arugula but it doesn't have wild arugula's bite.

Dutch Broadleaf Cress
I've come to like the mildly spicy flavor of various types of cress. Watercress is probably the best known because that is the one type of cress that is found in the produce aisle of the markets here and I assume most everywhere. But there are other types of "land" cresses that have the flavor of watercress but are easier to grow. Last year I started growing Dutch Broadleaf Cress, a crinkly leafed variety that is very easy to grow, nicely productive, and mildly spicy. The only drawback to cress is that it is very sensitive to heat and long days and will bolt before it produces a decent crop if planted at the wrong time. I got some good harvests last year in March and April from a February 14 sowing, so it's quick too. I sowed seeds again on December 7 and just started harvesting it on January 30 - not bad for the short cold days in the dead of winter. I'll try another sowing in late February or early March and see how that fares and then try again in late October or early November to see how early I can push it for winter harvests. I've also picked up seeds for a few other varieties to compare - Rishad (Iraqi), Greek, and Persian Broadleaf. I just sowed some of the Persian Broadleaf, so if it is as quick as the Dutch Broadleaf I should be in the cress for the next couple of months at least.

Ruby Streaks Mizuna
I love the frilly leaves of mizuna to add a visual punch to my salads. Ruby Streaks has been my choice for the past couple of years. It lends a 1-2-3 punch with it's frilly leaves, ruby color, and mild mustardy bite. Purple/Red leafed vegetables don't seem to get as big as their green counterparts and Ruby Streaks is true in that regard. I like that.  It always seemed like the green mizunas that I used to grow got to be space hogs, elbowing out their neighbors in my cut-and-come-again salad greens patch - it seemed like I could never keep up with harvesting it. So, Ruby Streaks is back for 2016.

Saisai Leaf Radish
Radish leaves. No, not those prickly ones on the little red radishes and most salad type radishes, some people like them but I don't like their texture when raw. There's a few daikon radishes that have been selected for their smooth mild greens. Saisai is one such variety and it's quite tasty. The young leaves are good in salads and the more mature leaves are good cooked. Another radish that has mild tasty leaves is China Rose, which makes that a good dual purpose radish because it has good tasting rose colored roots too.

Spadona Chicory

Mild chicories, which includes frisee. I've pretty much given up on growing frilly frisee and turned to trying other mild chicories that can be harvested on a cut-and-come-again basis instead of waiting for a head to form. Last year I tried a variety called Spadona. It somewhat resembles a smooth edged dandelion but it is much less bitter. It does have some bitterness and the more mature the leaves get the more pronounced the bitterness, but I didn't find it to be overly bitter. I enjoyed the young leaves fresh in salads and the more mature leaves cooked. I sowed the seeds directly in the garden expecting to only harvest for a short time, but I ended up harvesting from April through July. That surprised me since my experience with other chicories, including radicchio is that it bolts quickly in the spring. Unfortunately I didn't get around to sowing more in the fall. I will be growing this one again and I think I need to find a spot in the garden and sow some seeds now! The good thing is that I need only find a small space, the plants grow quickly and it will take just a few to meet my needs.

Other leafy greens I grew last year were chard, spinach, and amaranth.

Peppermint Stick and Golden Chard

Chard is a green that I could harvest year round here if I so desired. A spring sowing can produce for a full year. I used to grow it year round but found that I wasn't harvesting it in the summer, the plants were just getting huge and taking up space and hosting aphids and other bugs. The last few years I've been sowing it in the summer to harvest through the fall and into the winter. It bolts in the spring but it tends to be one of the last overwintered greens to do so. Last year my final harvest was in May. I only grew two varieties, Peppermint Stick and Golden Chard. Peppermint Stick was by far the most productive, I got 8 pounds from the 2014 sowing. I don't remember what happened with the Golden Chard, but I only got a little over half a pound from the 2014 sowing. This was another veggie that suffered from my malaise last fall. I had sown the seeds as planned in August and got some nice little seedlings of Peppermint Stick and Italian Silver Rib going, and then failed to set them out in the garden in a timely manner. I finally set them out in the garden on November 20. So, they are out there, alive but not necessarily thriving. Oh well.

Summer Perfection and Verdil Spinach
It was an off year for spinach also, but not entirely because I got lazy but because the sow bugs totally decimated my first attempt at a fall sowing. I did get a second round going last fall and my experiment with growing the plants under cloches paid off. But still, I harvested only 1.8 pounds of spinach for the entire year - about 6 ounces in January and the rest of it in December, and I barely squeaked in that December Harvest, 3 more days and it would have been a 2016 harvest.

Thai Tender and Tender Leaf Amaranth
At least I did well by my favorite summer leafy green. Amaranth is often recommended as a warm weather substitute for spinach. But I like amaranth as the unique vegetable that it is. My favorite types are the mild green ones. The leaves of just about any amaranth are edible but there are a few varieties that are grown specifically for their greens. I've found two varieties that have tender good tasting leaves and that don't get to be huge. Thai Tender and Tender Leaf are both dwarf Asian varieties bred specifically for harvesting as a leafy green. My biggest problem with growing amaranth is that it is a heat loving vegetable and summers here are typically a little too cool for their liking. The warmer than usual weather last summer allowed me to get them off to an earlier start than usual so I got to enjoy them for a bit longer. My little patch (about 4 square feet) produced 4.4 pounds of greens starting in late July through September.

That's it for my look back at 2015. Now it's time to look forward to coming attraction for 2016. The seed orders are already arriving!


  1. I much prefer harvesting lettuce on a cut & come again basis so usually treat all the lettuce that way, even the romaine & Batavia. I do really like butterhead lettuce but have never grown it as I have a feeling that one would not be as amenable to that form of harvesting.

    And I know what you mean about the mizuna - it grows into such a huge mop & I'll only be growing a couple at a time from now on. But the plus side of the green ones are that they blend in enough that my picky daughter doesn't pick it out of her salad and start critically analyzing if she likes it or not :)

  2. I think salad crops, especially Lettuce, are great value for space. They are easy to keep going too, replacing one or two here and there at frequent intervals, as they get used. I notice that there are no "Iceberg" Crisphead types on your list. I think they are quite difficult to get right, but so worth it if you do. I love their tight crunchy hearts done as a "Wedge Salad" with Blue cheese dressing!


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