Surprising as it may seem, I like growing my own lettuces. Like many home grown fruit and vegetables, I think they taste better than ones from the supermarket. The problem is making them last all (or nearly all) year. I know there are varieties that are meant to keep through the winter and I grow some of those both outside and in the polytunnel but the big difficulty I find is around now.
The winter lettuces are over and the spring ones are still little seedlings and will still take a few weeks to get big enough to do anything with. However, I think I’ve found an answer.
Most supermarkets now do “Living Salads” through the winter and (providing you’re lucky and get them when they’re fresh) they make excellent plants. I bought this lot in early January and planted them into the polytunnel in the spaces left by my own winter lettuces (which in August/September went into the spaces left as I pulled up the tomatoes).
As you might be able to see, they are all healthy plants (about 30 from one living salad) and a combination of green and red varieties. They’re strong enough now to be able to withstand leaves being picked from them which is ideal. If there aren’t enough leaves on their own they can always be mixed with a shop bought lettuce to add flavour. (The black pipe is my dripper watering system which is connected to a waterbutt and drips water into the polytunnel all winter).
The only problem I have found with doing this is that the lettuces can provide a home for greenfly, to which the solution (even now) is to capture ladybirds (and harlequin beetles) and to transfer them into the polytunnel where they can feast on the aphids.
I’ve also sowed various lettuces (and they’ve created quite strong seedlings. One experiment I’m trying is to grow from my own seed. One lettuce I like is “Black Seeded Simpson”. I got the original seed a few years ago but when I ran out in 2013, I couldn’t buy any more. Fortunately I found another source in 2014 but decided that I would leave one plant to go to seed and collect them for myself. It wasn’t difficult but I’ve yet to know if the seeds are viable. Last year I collected quite a few of my own seeds (mainly tomatoes) and I’m trialling them this year to see if they run true to type.