Friday, April 3, 2009

Let us Talk about Lettuce.....

(Article by: Tina Wilson for "Small Town Living" April/May 2009)
Heirlooms abound in the seed world,
from heirloom flowers such as celosia, to zinnias, and all sorts of varieties in between.
Such also can be said for vegetables,there are many, many varieties that fit into the heirloom category.

What exactly is an heirloom anyway, and why is important to know and learn about these varieties and to grow them in your own yard?

Heirlooms are open pollinated varieties of seed, they will grow true to type.
In other words, this means that a seed taken from the plant will produce a plant that looks identical to the parent plant from which the seed came from.

Such is sometimes not the case with hybrid varieties of seed. In a world where we are more and more frequently hearing the term "genetically modified"; it is even more crucial that the old timey varieties;varieties of plants,and seeds that have withstood the tests of time; be preserved, saved carefully, and passed along for future generations to enjoy and cherish.

Heirloom seed are also seed that can be dated back from 50 to 100 years or more, seed that has been passed down from generation to generation, seed with a history...with a story.

Seed that is not hybridized, or genetically modified. In other words...seed that is very important to preserve and not allow it to become extinct.

When shopping at your local grocery store or produce stand, no doubt you have seen lettuces being offered, but typically we only see about 3 to 4 varieties in the market place.

We'll often see romaine, iceberg,and perhaps a little mesclun, but clearly we are limited on the varieties we are offered.

Such need not be the case if you do a little research and find out just what else is out there.

We here at "Small Town Living" have done a little research for you to save you a bit of time, and because our own inquiring minds wanted to know as well.

So, we did a little looking at heirloom varieties because we feel as mentioned above, that these varieties are more than just a novelty, it is imperative that our generation help to preserve them, and also we just knew that there had to be more than just the few varieties of lettuces we have seen offered at local stores and produce stands.
Our taste buds and gardens want more variety!

Below we have listed some of the varieties we learned about along the way, and where you can purchase heirloom seeds for them.

We have also included some tips on how to grow lettuces in your own garden. Enjoy!..and may your salads now be filled with more than enough variety and taste.

You'll also have a little bit of a history lesson to talk about across the dinner table too, as you learn a little about each variety and how to grow them in your own gardens.

May you too learn to love heirloom vegetables, and the joy in preserving our gardening heritage...seed by seed.
Amish Deer Tongue:
This is a rugged, heavy producer with a unique triangular leaf shape which resembles a deer's tongue. The plants are a pretty bright green color, and are great for a cut and come again harvesting technique. They are a loose leaf type of lettuce. Only taking around 45 to 55 days from seed sowing until harvest. Leaves have a nice pleasant and sharp flavor.It is also good for baby greens... meaning harvesting when the leaves are smaller than the full harvest date size.This variety is slow to bolt.

As the name indicates it is a favorite in the Amish community.
Amish deer tongue lettuce dates back to the 1740's.This is a variety of lettuce that has found itself on the "Slow Food US's Ark of Taste", a catalogued list of 200 varieties of vegetables that are in danger of extinction.
Bronze Arrowhead Lettuce:

This variety was first known as "Bronze Beauty". It was introduced by a company known as Germania Seed and Plant Company. In 1947 it was awarded an honor that suited its name perfectly...the "bronze medal" in the "All American Selections".It was also known as the finest,most colorful, and most delicious variety to grow in the garden.

This variety has pretty dark green oak leaf shaped leaves that are edged in a reddish maroon color.Looseleaf varieety that is slow to bolt.Goes from seed to harvest in just 40 to 50 days.
Cracoviensis Lettuce:

This French heirloom variety dates back to before 1885, when it was referenced by the Vilmorin Seed Company of France, whom back in the mid 1800's was known as "the most important seed company in the world", and was also noted for their scientific study on seeds and plants that were "pure line"
This variety has tender,sweet leaves that are a bright green color tipped with purple.It is also sometimes referred to as "Red Celtuce" for the tender and light pink stems that the plant produces when it does bolt.

It is sometimes quick to bolt, but the bolted stems can be used, and the leaves do not turn bitter,and remain tender throughout.A looseleaf variety. From seed to harvest is 65 days.
Forellenschuss Lettuce:

Growing from 8 to 12 inches tall this Austrian heirloom's name translates to "trout with a speckled back".
The beautiful green leaves are speckled all over with reddish - maroon coloring.

It is a good choice for using as baby greens or as full size heads.It is a Romaine vvariety that is ready to harvest in just 55 days.Holds up well in cold weather and also heat.
Grandpa Admire's Lettuce:

Named for George Admire, a Civil War Veteran born in 1822.
The seed was preserved by Mr. Admire's granddaughter whom at age 90 in 1977, gave the seed to the Whealy family of Missouri.
The Whealy family founded "Seed Saver's Exchange" in 1975,a non profit, member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations.
This variety of lettuce is a Butterhead variety.
A bronze tinged variety which forms a large loose head, and has a mild fine flavor.A slow bolting variety, it stays tender longer than most varieties and is heat tolerant.60 days from seed to harvest.
Green Oakleaf Lettuce:

In the 1880's this heirloom variety was referred to as" Baltimore Oakleaf" and "Philadelphia Oakleaf".Forming rosettes up to 24 inches in size, this looseleaf variety is resistant to hot weather, and retains its taste, never getting bitter.Adds a lovely look and texture to salad mixes.Toss it with some of the lettuce varieties mentioned above for a gorgeous salad.50 days from seed to harvest.
Lolla Rossa Lettuce:
An Italian heirloom, this looseleaf variety adds plenty of beauty to your salad plate,and is wonderful as a baby salad green variety.
With lovely magenta colored frilled edge leaves and light green bases.
Mild flavored and an absolutely lovely addition to the garden.It develops small 5 inch to 8 inch half globe heads. It is also a good cut and come again variety.55 days from seed to harvest.
Mervielle de Quartre Saisons Lettuce:

A lovely French heirloom bibb -type variety of lettuce that dates back to before 1885.Also known as "Marvel of Four Seasons. This is another variety mentioned in the papers of the "Vilmorin Seed Company" of France in 1885.Pretty reddish colored leaves have a crispy,excellent flavor.A Butterhead variety that is ready to harvest in 60 days from seed sowing.
Marveille De 4 Seasons  Lettuce on Foodista
Sanguine Ameliore Lettuce:

Introduced in 1906 by C.C. Morse and company, this French variety was then known as the "Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce". The leaves of this Butterhead variety have a deep reddish brown mottling on pretty dark green to chartreuse colored leaves.The plants reach 7 to 9 inches in diameter.Tender and mild flavor.60 days from seed to harvest.
Tennis Ball Lettuce:

This tiny headed black seeded variety (seeds are black) develops light green tight rosettes that measure about 7 inches in diameter.Introduced to gardeners back in the 1850's. Fun to grow in containers due to its petite size.A Butterhead variety that is ready to harvest in 60 days.
Growing tips for lettuce:
A cool season crop, lettuces are best grown in the early spring or fall.
When sowing the seed in the garden just barely cover with soil, no more than 1/8th of an inch, as the seed needs plenty of sunlight to germinate, and needs temperatures of at least 70 degrees to do so.
Lettuces do not actually require a fertilizer, but if you decide to grow one of the "cut and come again" varieties which grow for a longer season, you will want to give the plants a little bit of manure or compost to help keep the nitrogen levels in the soil in balance during the growing season.
Because lettuces have a shallow root system it is easy for them to dry out quickly in warm weather, make sure that your plants receive frequent watering.
Slugs will become a problem if the ground is left too damp or mulched.
There is no need to mulch around lettuce plants.
To keep a steady harvest of lettuce going, make sure to plant new seed every week to ten days.
Thin your plants to allow a spacing of 8 to 12 inches between seedlings.
Not only can lettuces be direct sown into the garden, but they also work well as container crops.
Fun, but little known facts about Lettuce:
In the 1920's "Iceberg" lettuce was known as "Crisphead" Lettuce.It earned the name "Iceberg" based upon the way it was transported commercially in California, by covering the heads with mounds of ice.

It is said that the Emperor Caesar Augustus erected a monument to lettuce because he believed it cured his illness.

Lettuce is the second most popular vegetable in the United States, corn being the first.

Lettuce is actually a member of the sunflower family.

About 25 percent of all commercially grown "Iceberg" lettuce is made into "fresh cut" salad mix.

The average American eats about 30 pounds of lettuce a year.
Sources for Heirloom Lettuce Seed:

Seed Savers Exchange

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds


Saving Your Own Lettuce Seed:

1.)Choose 2 lettuce plants as your "seed saving" plants.
2.) Place a marker near them, or tie a piece of yarn around the plants, anything to let you know that these plants are "set aside" to allow them to "bolt"(go to seed)
3.) Do not harvest from these plants, simply allow them to grow.
4.) Soon they will set up a central stalk from the center of the plant, and will begin to produce flowers.
5.)Once the flowers begin to set seed, the seed heads will look similar to dandelion flower seed heads.
6.)At this time you can begin to harvest the seed heads.
7.)Simply cut the stalks off of the plant.
8.)You'll need to have a brown paper bag with you.
Hang the seed head upside down inside of the paper bag.
9.)Use a rubber band or twisty tie to close the bag, then gently shake to release the seed.
Once you have shaken the seed loose, open the bag and allow the seed to air dry for a few days. 10.)Once they have dried out place them into a small jar or ziplock baggy and store in a cool, dry place.
You'll have next year's lettuce seed at the ready.
~The Victory Gardener~

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