Friday, March 1

Growing Lettuce in Winter - Part 2

We spaded the ground in our unheated greenhouse, removing weeds and debris. To spade, push your shovel in the ground and lift a shovel full of dirt out of the ground. Turn your whole shovel over and let the dirt fall back into the hole you just made. The point of doing this is to bring relatively untouched soil from under the ground to the surface, bury the organic material that was on the surface, and to break up the compacted soil.
We gathered 4 logs of white pine to use as the sides of the raised bed. The bed was about 4'x6'. We dug a shallow trench all around and set each log in it.
We placed the white pine logs in a rectangle like this. Even though this raised bed was only temporary, white pine is an excellent wood to use when you're looking for a wood that will have to sit in the soil. I made a fence of untreated white pine as well as a cold frame and they are both holding strong.
Next, we filled up the raised bed with commercial grade soil. We used Sunshine mix.
Because the soil from the bag was dry we poured gallons of water to get it good and moist. We used a rake to smooth out the soil.
This is the size of the lettuce plants at transplanting time. Make sure to water your transplants well before separating the plants. I also recommend a little liquid fertilizer just before transplanting.
We took the top of the rake and made rows in the dirt. We planted each lettuce plant about 5" apart in the row with each row about 6" apart. It's probably best to space them a little farther apart than we did so they can get better air circulation. Make sure to label everything well!
We checked them out on the 2nd of March and found they were coming along very nicely. We had to do replant a few due to just failing to take and because a rodent came through and dug some up. Rodents are one of our main problems when we try to overwinter anything. At the same time we're making a home for the lettuce (or whatever it may be) we're making a home for little critters. We placed traps all around, caught a few and didn't have problems afterwards.
To combat the cold temps we made a low tunnel with plastic and bent conduit that we pushed into the ground. We set up a heat lamp (you can see it in the photo) that was temperature controlled by a rather cheap little plug-in gizmo.
On the 20th of March we took more photos of the lettuce. Looking really good! Yes, yes it does need a little weeding. :)
A week later the lettuce has grown by leaps and bounds. We could have eaten it at this stage, but we wanted to wait a bit longer until the head lettuce had larger heads. During its growing period we watered the lettuce only when it was looking dry; and we fertilized it with Miracle-Gro every other week.
About April 1 we started harvesting the lettuce for salads, burgers, and sandwiches. On April 22 we finally took some photos of our little lettuce bed - I was cutting some for sandwiches that day.
You can see the lettuce is very thick. We had some air circulation issues and the romaine lettuce was a bit leggy due to the crowding. Make sure you don't make the same mistake. Despite the few problems we had, it was very successful and very tasty. Good luck with your winter lettuce!
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