Friday, March 22, 2013

Lettuce got variety

In the centuries since the early Egyptians and then Greeks and Romans first cultivated and selected lettuce, a wonderland of forms and colors have been developed. Now that Front Range soil temperatures have generally reached 40 degrees F consistently, it's time to seed lettuce and other hardy cool season vegetables.

The mesclun mix pictured above left shows some of the variety to be found in lettuce and many mixes are now on seed racks and in catalogs. Even so there is something to be said for growing a single variety both in the way it looks in the garden and in the salad bowl. Here are a few you may want to try. All photos are of lettuce growing successfully in Denver.

'Lollo Rossa' is an Italian heritage lettuce noted for it's frilly leaves. This looseleaf lettuce is ready in as little as 30 days. Pictured is 'Dark Lolla Rossa' which is a garden showstopper when paired with a light green oakleaf lettuce. Oakleaf is another 30 to 40 day type that has been cultivated in America since the 1800's. Both red and green oakleaf varieties can be found.

Another heirloom lettuce cultivated by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello as early as 1809 is 'Tennis Ball'. It's a butterhead type that requires 50 days to maturity.

The Mennonites brought 'Speckles' lettuce to America from Germany and Holland 200 years ago. Another butterhead type, this one matures in  50 days.

If you want to try a head lettuce, 'Pablo' is a Batavian loosehead lettuce with tender leaves that grows in 68 days. It's open pollinated and you can save seeds if so inclined.

Although lettuce is a hardy annual, seed or transplant soon so it can complete growth before hot weather. Hot temperatures cause it to flower ruining the quality of the leaves.

Photo credit: Mesclun mix, 'Dark Lollo Rossa' and oakleaf lettuce, 'Tennis Ball' lettuce, 'Speckles' lettuce, 'Pablo' lettuce, all credit Carl Wilson.

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