Iceberg is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lettuce varieties. The garden has ten different kinds this year. Alternating rows of red and green one five the beds a striped appearance. Gardening is like a painting that changes weekly.
Leaf lettuces do not make heads. Black seeded Simpson is the most well known. We grow Red Sails, which has red frilly leaves and gets big. It doesn’t pack and ship well because it is so tender.Romaine lettuces are tall and barrel shaped., with thick, sweet leaves. Jesicho is a light green color and gets huge. It was developed in Israel to withstand heat and drought. Craquante D’Auignon (the French name) is known as Winter Density and has been grown in Europe for a long time. It makes a tighter head, is a darker green, and is grown in the fall because it tolerates frost.
Bibb lettuce is also called Boston Bibb, or Butter Head. The large, thick leaves surround a soft, almost yellow heart, which is extremely tender and crisp. Butter Crunch is the variety we use. It’s the smallest lettuce we grow, and many people say it’s the best, but it doesn’t last long in the field.
Summer Crisp are my favorites. They’re also known as Batavia, or French Crisp. As the name suggests, they grow well in the summer and are very crisp. Nevada is light green, is disease resistant and makes a heavy head. Magenta has shiny, red tinged leaves that form a whorl. Cherokee is similar but is a much darker red. Barbados is a new one for us, it looks more frilly and is a dark green.
Walderman is the other variety for this year. It’s a large leafy lettuce with frilly leaves that are a deep green color.
Lettuce seed is sown in April in shallow furrows and barley covered up. I rub the seed between my thumb and index finger to get a small stream of seed falling through the air. If a lot is falling I walk faster. I try to get the seeds a half inch apart, but they are usually too thick. The row is firmed in with the back of a rake, and then raked over.
When the plants have formed several leaves and have a thick root, they get transplanted in a four foot wide bed with three rows. I like them a foot apart in the bed. If we pay attention, we can plant them so they can be hoed lengthwise down the bed, and clockwise in two different directions. It’s called a diamond pattern. We do anything to make the hoeing job easier.
The heads are beautiful. They’re cut with a knife and packed in bushel baskets. After cooling off in the cave, they are shipped to the CSA drop off in Nashville. We are moving four or five hundred heads per week. They will peter out by the end of July, which is when we’ll plant more seed for the fall garden. If all you’ve ever eaten is iceberg, take a drive into the wonderful world of lettuces.