Sunday, January 20

Growing Lettuce in Winter: Part 1

Starting lettuce in winter was successful for us. We transplanted it into a raised bed inside our unheated greenhouse. We covered the raised bed in a low tunnel as well, we then snaked a heating cable through the bed and set out a heat lamp that turned on when it got close to the freezing point. Step by step photos below will show you how we started the lettuce from seed. The interesting thing about this "lettuce-in-winter escapade" is

that even if we didn't transplant the lettuce into our greenhouse, we would still have had yummy baby greens to eat right from the seed flat! Keep that in mind, especially if you don't have the room or time.

Start by filling a 1020 seed flat with seed mix. We used SunGro Sunshine mix which we bought from a local nursery. The key is to wet the soil with warm water before transferring into the flat. Wetting the soil before putting it in the flat makes things so much easier when you go to water later on. You probably encountered many a time the "deflating soil syndrome". This is solved if you wet the soil before you even put it in the seed flat.

Pat down the soil a tiny bit with your hand to smooth it out and get rid of the hills and valleys. You want to sow your seed on an even plane, and patting the soil down helps to do this.

Divide your varieties of lettuce with two plastic tags as shown. Push them in the dirt so that one side of the tag is level with the dirt. We do this with everything we plant (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, eggplant, etc) and it works well for us.

A seeder like this one is helpful when sowing small seed, but it isn't necessary. You can just drop the seed with your fingers, just make sure to sow the seed evenly and no closer than 1/4 inch apart. The sparser the seed, the faster your lettuce will grow and the easier it will be for you to transplant. If you are not planning on transplanting your lettuce, sowing the seed close together will work for you.

Just a little tap of the seeder and the seed is spaced evenly. If you are seeding by hand you can drop the seed one by one or do like I do when I don't have a seeder at hand. I sprinkle the seed over the flat like you would pepper on a turkey. From up high (about a foot) and let gravity and seed mass space it evenly.

Again, you will want to pat down the soil, this time it is to push the seed into the soil just enough so that they don't move around when you go to water them.

Here's a great little trick when you are covering small seed. You probably know that the smaller the seed the less soil you need to cover the seed. Some seeds are like dust and they only need to be pressed into the soil. However, lettuce is small but not real small - they still need to be covered. The trick is to use dry soil. You remember in the first step I said to make sure to wet the soil before dumping it into the seed flat? It was not only good for avoiding the "deflating soil syndrome" but also for covering your lettuce seed. The wet soil is dark and clumpy. Dry soil is light and airy. This difference in color makes it so much easier to tell where you covered the seed. And being airy you will have a very hard time covering the seed too much. When I am covering lettuce seed (most seeds for that matter) I always go by the gauge: "as soon as I don't see the seed, that is enough soil."

Water the seed with warm water, very gently so you don't disturb the seed. If you do, just make sure all the seed is covered after you are done.

A must is covering your seed with plastic. We used a plastic dome, but you can use plastic wrap, a piece of glass or your ingenuity.

You don't need to put your seed flat under lights right away, but as soon as they germinate (or pop through the soil) put them under lights or by a bright window and take the plastic off.

This table-top Jump Start Grow Light system is perfect for starting lettuce. You can get this single flat one like we did, or a 4ft. system that can handle two flats. There are also many other table top and light systems for growing and starting plants indoors. Check out:,, and

Keep them watered! About every two or three days, depending on how dry/warm your growing environment is. You can see from this photo we chose to grow Freckles. It is an heirloom Romaine, and happens to be an early variety. We also wanted some leaf lettuce so we planted some Green Ice as well. As you see it didn't germinate all too well, but because it was spaced farther apart, it grew faster. What is not pictured in this photo is our favorite lettuce, Buttercrunch, which is a butterhead and really yummy. It does well in both cold and warm weather.

When these guys get their true leaves it is time to transplant. At this stage it is a good time to thin them out a bit if you plan to keep them in the flat. Stay tuned for the next installment of Lettuce in Winter, when I show you how we made the raised bed and transplanted the baby lettuce.

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