Lettuce is by far the world’s favourite salad green. The Egyptians were growing it way back in 4500 BC and it’s been the darling of the salad and the sandwich ever since. There is an incredible array of lettuce available for the discerning gardener – colour, style, leaf-form and grace. Only a disappointing sample can be found on supermarket shelves, selected primarily because they keep better. But the delights of fresh-picked leaves straight from the garden can’t be beaten.
I’m an avid fan of the rosette forms of the loose leaf lettuce. Loose leaf is ready to pick in just a couple of weeks and is heat tolerant. Sow more every two weeks for a constant salad supply. I don’t mulch around my lettuce as slugs just love the taste of little leaves and like to hide in mulch.
Keep your favourite lettuce going from year to year by saving the seed
If you are new to seed-saving, lettuce is an easy place to start. There is very little crossing in lettuce, so your plants next year will almost certainly be just like your favourite lettuce this year.
Start by choosing the healthiest lettuce plants in your garden – you’re looking for strong, healthy growth. Make sure they taste great by picking a few of the outside leaves, you wouldn’t want to save something that tasted yuck. Once you’ve made your selection, put a stake next to it labelled ‘save for seed’. Many of my best seed-saving intentions have blown away when a hungry husband has eyed a particularly good looking plant.
Hopefully, your lettuce will escape predation and make it through to late summer, when it will flower. If your lettuce has bolted too early it’s not the best one to save seed from as this is not a trait you want to select for.
Seeds will be ready for collecting 12–24 days after flowering. Each day grab a clean bucket and shake the lettuce tops into it. Be careful not to damage the stem. Put the contents into a paper bag and leave to dry somewhere cool and airy. Label the bag with the type of lettuce, a description, when it was grown and where the seed came from. While this may not be so important if you keep the seed to grow each year – it may matter to people you wish to swap seed with. With a single lettuce able to produce 30,000 seeds, you’ll have plenty to swap.
Don’t plant try to plant your lettuce seed straight away – store for at least 6 months. The seed has a coating on it that will stop your fresh seed from germinating..
You’ll want to remove a lot of the fluff and chaff that was collected with it. When the seed is completely dry, rub it over a fine mesh. Gently blow on the seed and most of the detritus will blow away leaving small oblong seeds. Don’t blow too hard or you may lose it all! Now store it away safely and package some up to bring along to Seedy Sunday.
Lettuce varieties currently available as seed to New Zealand gardeners
Devil’s ear, Finger, Four seasons (Quatre de saisons), Heritage lettuce mix, Joes, Lightheart (Ruawai), Mignonette, Odell’s, Tree lettuce, Webb’s wonderful, Winter.
Buttercrunch, Great lakes, Green oak leaf, Red oak leaf, Triumph, Webb’s wonderful.
Buttercrunch, Tom Thumb, Freckles, Little gem, Rouge d’hiver, Vivian, Great lakes, Grenoble, Apache, Cocarde, Canasta, Drunken woman fringed head, Lolita, Lollo blonda, Dark lollo rossa, Royal oak leaf, Salad trim, Perella rougette montpellier, Tango.
Degli ortolani, Lingua di canario, Misticanza, Rossa di trento, Testa di burro D’Inverno, Misticanza quattro stagioni, La Resistente sel. “Franchi”, Burro d’Inverno, Parella rossa.
Bug off, Cisco, Cos red majestic, Dover, Gourmet salad blend, Great lakes, Kaiser, Legacy, Onyx green frill, Red butterhead, Red fire, Solsun red frill, Tin tin cos, Tom Thumb, Veredes green oakleaf, Vesuvius, Xanthia red oakleaf.
Buttercrunch, Cos, Great lakes, Greenway, Webb’s wonderful, Winter triumph.
Buttercrunch, Great lakes, Mixed gourmet blend, Lollo rosso, Mesclun mix
This article appeared in the September edition of Kapiti’s On To It.