11.16.2013 Hoophouse Week 3 The Lettuce Report

Over the last week, we’ve had really cold and really windy.  We’ve had warm and sunny and today, finally, we have rain.  So it’s been an interesting week in the hoophouse, watching the temperatures rise and fall and trying to keep everything from absolutely cooking and worrying about everything freezing solid. Three days ago, I installed a remote thermometer, but because of our wireless internet network and the huge RF field thrown off by the flat screen TV, the only place I can get a signal from the sensor is in the bathroom window.

Generally speaking though, I don’t worry about the cold in the hoophouse and I’ve learned that anything over 50° outdoor temperature on a sunny day means ventilate in a hurry.

I put my first transplants in the ground on October 23.  This included 3 flats of lettuce started on 8/26, 9/12, and 9/23.  Half of the 8/26 flat had bolted (Chadwicks Rodan doesn’t tolerate heat at all.)  But all of these had been in the flats for too long and it took them a long time to reestablish themselves in the soil.  The Forellenschluss from that 8/26 flat is still struggling.

Mostly Forellenschlus, Austrian for "speckled like a trout"

Mostly Forellenschlus, Austrian for “speckled like a trout”

So let me show you what the various lettuces look like today.

First the 9/12 flat, planted on 10/23.  This is Rocky Top Mix from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I am harvesting this stuff out of the main garden these days.  It’s pretty, tastes good and keeps well.  Although this mix gets great reviews, the trouble with it is the seeds are all mixed together and largely look alike with only slight differences in color.  So, unless you are planting a lot of lettuce at a time, there’s no telling if you’re going to get the full spectrum of lettuce varieties.  Six weeks in a flat before transplant was too much.

Rocky Top Mix from Baker Creek three weeks after transplanting.

Rocky Top Mix from Baker Creek three weeks after transplanting.

Now the 9/23 flat, the second round of Forellenschluss and Chadwick’s Rodan. Four and a half weeks in the flat before transplant, still not ideal, but clearly better.

In the hoophouse on a murky day, the reds in the Forellenschluss and the Chadwick's Rodan, look brown and dingy.  The Chadwick's spikey leaves add an interesting visual element to the salad bowl.

In the hoophouse on a murky day, the reds in the Forellenschluss and the Chadwick’s Rodan, look brown and dingy. The Chadwick’s spikey leaves add an interesting visual element to the salad bowl.

Next the 10/3 flat.  This has New Red Fire, Green Star, Rouxai from Johnny’s Seeds, plus some 2011 Winter Density from Heirloom Seeds.  (The only lettuce seed more than a year old that will still germinate reliably.  I’ve tossed a lot of lettuce seed this year and I now keep all lettuce seed in the freezer.)  Three weeks in the flat before transplant seems to be the magic number.  (That’s from seeding to transplant, not germination to transplant.)  I just love the look of the Rouxai, though I am not sure how to pronounce it.  It’s been a slow grower elsewhere in the garden, but it is so beautiful and really brightens up salad.

Happy to be alive - this group of transplants is really taking off.

Happy to be alive – this group of transplants is really taking off.

On 10/12, I started a flat of Winter Density and I transplanted it out to the hoophouse on 11/7.  It’s very happy.

Grown from the only 2011 lettuce seeds in my stash that germinated.  It's just beginning to get established.

Grown from the only 2011 lettuce seeds in my stash that germinated. It’s just beginning to get established.

On 10/19, I started a flat of Johnny’s Seeds Salanova Collection, which are variations on red and green, plus a variety called Skyphos, which has some lovely pinkness.  The Salanova is expensive seed, but it is pelleted and germinates 99% of the time.  Varieties are segregated, so you know exactly what you are planting. My plan right now is to move all my lettuce plantings into the Salanova, for a while at least.  I also want to harvest whole heads instead of picking around the edges, so I can continuously harvest and replant with a fair idea of what the weekly harvest will be.  Volume is difficult to predict, when you are harvesting one leaf at a time from a lot of different plants.  At least it is for me.

Put in the ground just three days ago, the Salanova collection looks a bit wimpy at the moment.

Put in the ground just three days ago, the Salanova collection looks a bit wimpy at the moment.

The question is, how many different plantings do I have to make to get a regular weekly harvest?  Since day length is still short and getting shorter, I have to add days to the expected maturity dates.  But I really don’t know how many days.  Lettuce, when grown in the spring, takes between 50 and 55 days (7 to 8 weeks when direct seeded) to reach maturity.  How much extra to I have to add for transplant shock and low winter light levels?  Not a clue.  Do I run 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 sets?  Still learning.

I had originally planned to have the hoop house divided into thirds – one third lettuce, one third spinach and one third kale and other greens.  But that plan is evolving as less and less spinach does what it is supposed to.

Lettuce to the right. Kale, chard and other bassicas things to the left.  Spinach in the center toward the bottom half and more lettuce in the center top section of the picture,  The bricks in the middle row are to support 2x4's that will bolster the hoop house against snow loads.

Lettuce to the right. Kale, chard and other bassicas things to the left. Spinach in the center toward the bottom half and more lettuce in the center top section of the picture, The bricks in the middle row are to support 2×4’s that will bolster the hoop house against snow loads.

I suppose I could have the extension agent out and he could explain it all to me, but the local extension agents are heavily biased toward bigger food supplies through petrochemicals.  For now, I am going to learn by doing and reading as I always have.


Leave a Reply