When daytime temperatures get warmer, it will only be a matter of time before cool season lettuce that we planted in early spring bolts. Bolting is when lettuce starts to get a center stalk and eventually it will make flowers and become bitter. What makes lettuce bolt? Both summer heat and more sunlight in our longer sunnier days contribute to bolting. If you find your too late and it is already bitter, either compost it or give it to chickens. They don’t seem to mind the bitterness.
I read a tip where you can make bitter lettuce sweet again so I decided to try it as my winter lettuce is pretty much finished and bitter. The tip said to mix up 4 TLB salt with 1 liter of water till dissolved in a bowl and then soak your lettuce in it for ten minutes. Then rinse and it should be sweet. I did try it and the lettuce got totally wilted. Not edible. After I rinsed it, I soaked it in fresh water hoping to revive it and the lettuce was still salty and wilted. Still not edible. I didn’t even want to give the wilted lettuce to my chickens or compost it for fear of too much salt still in it. Oh well, so much for that tip!
If you still have lettuces that haven’t been picked, get out there soon before they bolt! To get the best from your lettuce, water your plants the evening before you plan to pick it. Then pick lettuces first thing the next morning before it gets too hot. After I wash it and spin out the water, I put lettuce in a ziplock baggie with a wet piece of paper towel folded (squeeze out excess moisture). Lettuce should last a good amount of time when doing this in the refrigerator.
There are other lettuces we can grow here in the shade in the summer. I will write a post soon about growing these warm season lettuces for the summer that are heat resistant and don’t bolt. They are called Batavian or Crisp lettuces. More on that later.
This year, one of the lettuces I grew is called Santoro, a type of butterhead lettuce that is heat-resistant, cold resistant, has a wonderful taste and grows really big if given the chance. I got the seeds from Cooks Garden seed catalog. I started them inside the house on Jan 29, transplanted them into 2″ pots on Feb 14 and transplanted them again into the greenhouse in mid April. I read somewhere Santoro lettuce can produce 12″ heads if you give them the room. So I spaced them really far apart to see if they could get that big. They say if you crowd big varieties they will never reach their maximum size. In the picture above I’ve picked the outer leaves to eat and wanted to see if they would grow back. The heads on the right haven’t been touched yet. As you can see I picked pretty hard. They grew back almost to the same size as the ones that weren’t picked.
A couple of weeks later-Check out the size of these heads-a full 12 inches across. They are still growing in the greenhouse but now I’m picking the whole head (instead of just the outer leaves) as I had to make way for the tomatoes that will grow in there. In fact I already have all 18 tomato plants (in wall of waters) inside the greenhouse as of May 13. I know it will get too hot for lettuces inside the greenhouse this summer so I’m starting to pull them to eat.
May 31-I just picked this last head of Santoro lettuce yesterday (shown above between the tomatoes in the wall of waters) and it hadn’t bolted yet even though the temperatures in the greenhouse have gotten over 80 degrees. It’s handled 19 degrees to over 80 degrees! It reached 17 inches across! Hasn’t gotten bitter and is still soft and wonderful to eat. I’ve never had such great lettuce as this year, not only with this lettuce but with all of them in the greenhouse. Seems I’ve figured out how to be successful with them. I’ve done a lot of research on them from Nov-Dec to find some great varieties that were cold tolerant and now I’ve researched out what varieties of lettuce are heat tolerant, hoping to grow them in the shade this summer here in Santa Fe without bolting. Most of us don’t even try to grow lettuce in the summer as it is pretty warm here. I will list the heat tolerant varieties of lettuce in the next post and do an experiment with some of them outside in the garden.