Lettuce is a staple crop around our place. The sooner we can have lettuce in the spring the better. Here are 3 tips for extra early lettuce this spring.
There are 3 different methods you can use to get extra early lettuce this spring. Each involves some planning and will work best if you have some protection from the early spring cold weather.
3 tips for extra early lettuce this spring
1. Start seedlings indoors early
In most parts of the country, January is way to cold for planting any seeds outdoors. But in your garage under some lights or a sunny window seal are the perfect spots to get an early start on your lettuce.
Most people don’t think of lettuce as a plant you traditionally start indoors. Lettuce plants actually do very well in a seed starter and they also transplant very well.
Simply get yourself a few containers. Anything will do, yogurt cups, newspaper pots, old six-packs that your flowers came in, whatever! The important part is that they will hold your potting soil and that they will drain. If you are using a makeshift container like a yogurt cup, be sure to poke at least a couple of holes in the bottom and widen those holes enough that excess water can drain out.
2. Build a cold frame or hoop house
Just a little bit of protection will go a long way to get you extra early lettuce this spring. Hoop houses or cold frames are a great way to extend your garden season and are fairly inexpensive and easy to make. You can put together a hoop house for around $25 or a cold frame for somewhere around $125 to 150.
The nice warm protected environment that a hoop house or a cold frame provides will give you the early start that you need for both seedlings or for lettuce planted by seed. The glass or plastic that you use on your cold frame will help to warm the soil up extra early and they also help to keep moisture in so that your seeds can germinate quickly. Or you can put your seedlings that you planted back in January out into a cold frame in March.
Just be sure to watch out for warm days, because the temperature inside of a hoop house or a cold frame can get pretty high if you’re not careful. I’ve had days when it was 55 degrees outside and it was 85 plus in the cold frame. Temperatures that high is not good for your tender lettuce plants they prefer temperatures in the sixties and seventies. So if it’s going to be a warm day make sure before you leave for work that you open up your cold frame or your hoop house to let in some of the cool spring air.
The third strategy for getting early lettuce is overwintering plants that you planted the previous fall. Smaller lettuce plants will actually endure the cold temperatures of winter quite well. So if you would like to have lettuce in early spring then get those seeds planted roughly two to three weeks before your first frost in the fall.
Lettuce seedlings planted that late in the fall will start to grow but won’t get terribly big. You are looking for seedlings that are maybe only 2 or 3 inches tall when you’re 10 hour days arrive in November. If you then protect the seedlings in a hoop house or a cold frame depending on how harsh of winter you have. The harsher the winter the more protection they need. If you live in a zone 6 or below I would recommend using a cold frame to protect the seedlings.
You will peak in on the seedlings during the winter and they look awful. They’ll be wilted and frozen looking but if your protection holds they will spring back and look fantastic as soon as the sunlight returns in the spring. These seedlings will then be ready to eat months sooner than seedlings that you had planted in the spring.
Overwintering is a fun project but it’s a little hit and miss. It really depends on how severe your winter is, some years are over winter is lettuce does fantastic. Other years because of the harsh winter are spring harvest of overwintered crops will be pretty slim. If you live in a warmer climate zone 7 or above this is a perfect way to have an almost continuous harvest of lettuce during the winter and early spring.
I hope these three tips help you to have salads earlier this year than you’ve ever had before.
If you like this post there’s a lot more information out there for you on season extension. A great source in my humble opinion is my year-round garden course.
This course will have you growing in your garden 365 days a year in almost any climates. It’s a must-have for anyone serious about season extension. Follow this link below to learn more and to buy your copy.