The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Episode 106 – September 30, 2018 – How To Grow and Have Fresh Lettuce All Year.
It is great to grow your own food, harvest that food and then in some form or another preserve that food to make it available year round. What is even better though is having something fresh from the garden you can eat year round.
On this podcast episode I answer a listener question about how I grow lettuce for fresh salads year round in a four season climate.
This is the time of the year when I start winding down the gardening a bit. Some things are getting cut down and not replaced but just getting the soil prepped for next year instead.
I’m going to be downsizing my garden by removing 2 raised beds to make room for a swingset for the grandkids, and I’m ok with that.
Bad experience with one of my rabbits.
Wishing for some cooler temps so I can go squirrel hunting.
How To Have Fresh Lettuce All Year
While it’s possible to grow most things indoors and have it fresh all year, the cost of doing so can be pretty high as setting up indoor growing rooms with climate control and grow lights can be expensive.
I have found for me that most things are best to grow seasonally and then preserve the harvest but there is one thing I like to have available year round to eat fresh and that is lettuce. It’s easy to grow as it doesn’t have as many needs as many other plants and there is something special about making a salad from fresh lettuce in January in Indiana.
I have mentioned a few times on the podcast that I do this but I guess I have never went into much detail about how I do it. This sparked a question in The Homestead Front Porch Facebook Group that I said I would answer on the podcast.
Ronnie Asks: You mentioned in a podcast that you grow salad year round. Would you care to go in depth on your process or maybe if you were going to start from scratch? I’d love more details, I have a sunroom that I could set up 3 or 4 tables in and keep it semi climate controlled.
I do this different now than I did in the beginning so I will talk about a few ways to do this. Most people I think assume growing lettuce in the winter time is the biggest challenge but for me it has been growing it in the heat of summer. So I will talk about that first.
Growing Lettuce In The Summer.
Use Microclimates. Lettuce don’t like hot weather and while there are more heat tolerant varieties than others, lettuce still needs the coolest climate you can provide for it in the heat of summer to thrive. Many gardeners have experienced planting lettuce, getting excited as it quickly sprouts and begins to form those delicious leaves only to see it bolt and turn bitter as it goes to seed before you can harvest anything.
In my yard I have created the perfect spot for growing lettuce in the heat of summer. This location only gets about 3 hours of direct full sun in the late morning and about 3 hours of dappled sunlight afterwards in mid summer. This keeps the area several degrees cooler than other parts of my yard by providing the minimum amount of sunlight lettuce needs to thrive and completely blocking the hot late afternoon sun I am able to have lettuce that provides for me for a reasonable amount of time before it bolts.
Even here it will bolt quicker in Summer than it does in Spring or Fall so to keep a constant rotation of good edible lettuce I practice succession planting. About every 2 to 3 weeks in summer I plant another row of lettuce seeds and keep five, eight foot rows going at a time so as one row starts to bolt another is just reaching its peak of goodness.
I also plant a variety of lettuces as I have found a few types that tolerate the heat pretty well.
My favorite lettuce is Romaine and the variety that that does best in the heat is called Parris Island Cos. I find this lettuce can actually handle quite a bit of sunlight and heat and it actually grows a little slow in my special microclimate area.
I also enjoy a common Bibb variety called Buttercrunch. Most gardeners who grow lettuce are familiar with this lettuce and it’s great taste and I find it is one of the best year round varieties you can grow.
The one I grow the most of though is probably my least favorite tasting of the three and that is a Leaf Lettuce variety called Black Seeded Simpson. The question surely arises that if it’s my least favorite of the three why do I grow the most of it? Because it’s the easiest, quickest and most climate tolerant of the three and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
I also want to mention that you will want to harvest your lettuce in the morning in the Summer time as this will provide you with the best taste, texture and preservation factor of you harvested lettuce. Lettuce leaves will quickly dry out and the stems get sappy as they heat up so picking your lettuce early in the morning will provide you with leaves that are at their most crisp, cool, and bursting with moisture.
Growing Lettuce In The Winter.
This is where my methods have changed. I used to grow my lettuce in the house under grow lights in the winter but now I grow it in my greenhouse. Both methods have there struggles but both work so I will go over these two methods and let you decide which works best for you.
Setting up indoor grow beds with grow lights.
Building the beds.
Lettuce doesn’t require deep soil for its roots so I’ve found that 2×4’s work really well for the sides of the beds allowing you just under 4 inches of soil depth.
This is pretty important. You don’t want to bring soil in from your garden to plant indoors as you will probably invite a serious aphid problem into your indoor grow beds. The climate and protection you are providing creates a perfect environment for aphids to flourish.
You will want to use a descent quality potting soil as this will provide your lettuce with the nutrients you need and not have the issues of using your garden soil.
Lettuce will grow okay in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees but I find it does better on the lower end of that spectrum. Keeping your soil temps around 65 degrees will give you the most successful indoor lettuce growing beds.
If you want to use florescent bulbs for your indoor grow beds listen to this episode – What Lights Should I Use For My Indoor Garden?
However, when I did that podcast episode about 3 years ago LED grow lights were still really expensive and I didn’t think they were the best option at the time. Since then these lights have become much more affordable and are extremely efficient and better in nearly every way.
Growing in a greenhouse in the winter.
In the winter the days are obviously much shorter so you will have to provide your plants with the maximum amount of direct sunlight they can get to grow well. This is where I think many growers fail in the winter as they think using a sun room or a south facing window will be enough light but in reality the sun isn’t directly shining on the plants the entire day. This will cause your plants to grow “leggy” having long stems and not much leaf production.
This is the same as indoor growing. You will need to use a good potting soil mix to minimize pests, specifically aphids.
Again this is the same as growing in your house only a little more challenging as greenhouses will fluctuate in temperatures much quicker than your house.
To keep your soil around the ideal growing temps you will need to heat the greenhouse and/or the soil. My greenhouse isn’t very large (6’x8′) so I’m able to heat it with a temperature controlled electric heater and electric seedling heats mats under the beds.
This does add to the electric bill but for me it’s worth is for the fresh home grown salads through the winter.
KINGBO 45W LED Grow Light – To be clear, I don’t own this grow light but this is the one I’ve heard other folks recommend as the best bang for the buck.
Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, 2nd Edition by Eliot Coleman
Culina 5-Quart Salad Spinner – This was a recommended item of the week a few weeks’s ago
In The News:
Homesteading in the digital age from Marketplace.org
A story from Oakland, California about Stephanie Goode, who has no yard, runs a small homestead on her roof. While it’s not a money-making operation, her farm provides about a tenth of her monthly groceries.
Why does a topic like this end up on a show like Marketplace? Because they recognize living this lifestyle has an effect on your own personal economy.
We find out on that show that this lady who is an IT design freelancer not only grows food on her rooftop but also raises chickens there for eggs. She then takes many of the eggs and trades for other things she needs like goats milk.
Some points of interest I think we can gather from what is said and not said in this show.
Even folks in a high tech industry, living in the city, embracing a digital age see the importance of growing some food.You don’t need a bunch of land to grow some of your own food.Bartering is a great way to supply some other needs for your homestead.
The Homestead Life:
A segment where each episode I share something that’s better in my life because of homesteading.
The discovery of new recipes. It’s funny how when you grow a bunch of something that you think you really like to eat how quickly you can get tired of eating it, or at least eating it in the same old way. So you find yourself talking to other gardeners and homesteaders or searching the internet looking for other ways to prepare whatever it is you have grown or raised. This leads to some pretty amazing discoveries of great recipes and it’s turned into one of the things I really enjoy about homesteading.