Tips for starting lettuce from seed

emorems0(PA - 6a)February 16, 2014

I've tried to start lettuce from seed in the past and every time it's been a total fail. The little seedlings always want to bolt instead of forming a nice head. My cabbage did the same for me last year (although I suspect it was because I started it too late - They finally started making little heads last fall and promptly got frozen in a freak Halloween snow/ice storm).

Getting ready to start my seeds for the spring and am wondering what my seedlings might be missing that is causing them to bolt instead of forming nice heads.

In the next 2-3 weeks I'll be starting cabbage (Danish ballhead), lettuce (romaine & buttercrunch), broccoli (Waltham), and cauliflower (violetta italia).

Tips? for the last two years I ended up just buying broccoli plants and giving up on cauliflower because my seedlings got destroyed by bugs when I planted them out and then promptly bolted and never formed nice heads. I am planning on planting some aromatic herbs around/between these plants to help keep the bugs away and I have some floating row covers too. I really want to make these cool weather crops work this year!

Melissa

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woohooman

Indoors, under shoplights.

With lettuce, barely cover the seeds with soil and they need light to germinate.

With the brassicas, an 1/8" to 1/4" soil over seeds.

6-8 weeks at about 16 hours lights on/8 hrs. off for both.

With the brassicas, they tend to get leggy, but you can transplant them below soil line to straighten them out.

With both, keep the lights just above the top leaves(no more than an inch) to prevent legginess.

Keep medium moist until germination. After that, do not overwater, and try to bottom water by soaking cells/starter pots in about an inch of water for 20 mins.

Fertilizing isn't important if you use a commercial potting mix or seed starter. There's usually enough added to carry them through to transplant. Maybe a dose of fish fert or an all-purpose at 1/4-1/2 strength after a month after sowing.

Personally, I use 1/2 part MG Organic choice potting MIX, 1/2 part MG Orchid potting MIX, some added coarse perlite and a tad of bone meal for my starts.

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 3:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Most seed varieties of lettuce aren't head lettuce, they are leaf lettuce, so what variety are you growing? If you are growing one of the 'heading' varieties then over-crowding prevents head formation. Same is true for cabbage.

Getting ready to start my seeds for the spring and am wondering what my seedlings might be missing that is causing them to bolt instead of forming nice heads.

Temperatures. Warm air/soil temps cause lettuce to bolt. So assuming you didn't use a heat mat on them (hopefully) then reducing the air temps in your growing area to below 65 is the solution.

Dave

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 5:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emorems0(PA - 6a)

So this is the first year that I have grow lights for my seedlings. My plan is to sow the cabbage in my south-facing window, under grow lights the first week of March and the broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce (head lettuce - buttercrunch and romaine) the second week of March. Our Spring frost date here is May 2, so I figured I should be able to put the lettuce and cabbage outside the first week of April and the broccoli and cabbage the second week of April. I'll have some aromatic herbs mixed around for bug deterrent, but I think I'll put a floating row cover over them too, at least while they are young and tender.

Does this sound like a good plan?

I was hoping to direct sow some lettuce outside the first week of April too so that I'm not harvesting all at once. How late can I plant lettuce before it gets too warm?

Thanks for the advice on seed starting mix... I'm currently working on figuring out what kinds of containers I'm going to start my seeds in this year, haven't even really thought about planting medium yet.

Melissa

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 7:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woohooman

If I were you, I'd start everything right now under lights. That's about 8 weeks indoors under lights and another 1-2 for hardening off. If you want to space the sowing about 2 weeks apart to space the harvests( a few plants of each...I have no idea how many you're feeding and how much lettuce and broccoli you can eat), then that works too. Window lightis notorious for leggy seedlings, especially this time of year.

Regarding all, they're all cool weather crops, so like Dave said, germinating can be an issue, but bolting is a big concern as summer approaches. When it starts to warm up, you can prolong the cool season by mulching heavily, keeping the soil moist, and sometimes planting in the partial shade of other plants/trees. Also shade cloth can be useful.

Since you already have the lights, use them! You'll be happier in the long run. JMO

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 8:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emorems0(PA - 6a)

I'm probably a week from being able to start anything since I'm still waiting for some of my supplies (just ordered the lights last week, still waiting for a few of my seeds). But it's good to know I can get started a little earlier... I'm really anxious to start growing stuff, this winter has been so cold and so snowy and I'm SO ready for Spring!

I put all of my lettuce, broccoli, etc in my partly shaded bed... will the floating row cover obstruct too much light in the early Spring? The insects really ate them up when they were young and tender in years past (although, I've never started them this early either - how many bugs are really out in mid-April in zone 6?).

I don't actually have a lot of room for my broccoli and cauliflower, especially with the herbs interplanted, they share a 8'x4' bed with the lettuce, cauliflower, peas, celery and onions. I'm doing SFG so I can pack things in more tightly than if I were doing rows and the soil is amended really well, there just isn't a ton of sun. Plants seem to grow well in that bed, but not produce much (other than my pole beans last year, they did great). I think it was mostly a direct sowing too late problem and a bug problem. But based on my past failures, it's more of a trial of new methods in that bed for me this year... I'm only putting in 4 broccoli and 2 cauliflower since I can only put one plant per square foot of those (but I hope to be able to do both a spring and a fall planting).

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 8:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
little_minnie(zone 4a)

Sometimes seedlings will bolt prematurely from being started indoors too early and in too small of containers. Also if fertilized too much. They get stressed from this. Then even when planted out in cool weather and watered fine they will bolt quickly.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 8:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woohooman

"will the floating row cover obstruct too much light in the early Spring?"

It shouldn't.

What kind of bugs? On lettuce, I never see any damage. Brassicas, another story. Usually it's caterpillars and aphids, but they're pretty easily controlled if one is diligent. For aphids, spray jets of water and/or insecticidal soap and for caterpillars, BT. All organic.

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 9:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ltilton

For heading varieties of lettuce, spacing is essential. They won't head if crowded. Thin, thin, thin.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 9:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emorems0(PA - 6a)

slugs and/or caterpillars, I think. The leaves were eaten and hole-y, not much aphid damage (we have a ridiculous amount of lady bugs here, so I think that helps). We tend to go on vacation for a week or two in early summer and come back to destruction. I never actually saw any caterpillars, but we do get a good number of those little white 'butterflies' (my daughter loves them, lol) flying around during the summer - those are cabbage moths, right?

Regarding spacing for head lettuce, the SFG method puts 4/sf for heading lettuce, think that's okay? too tight?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 11:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woohooman

What I thought. Those white butterfies are cabbage loopers and their babies are caterpillars. They blend in very well to foliage. You can remove by hand, but I just spray BT throughout the season ever 2 weeks so I don't have to worry. BT K variant is what you want -- available at any garden center. It's probably the least harmful of any pesticide since it only targets caterpillars and can be used up to day of harvest... Good stuff. Your daughter loves them... I hate them. I try to teach my cat and dog to get them. They just look at me in bewilderment. Ladybugs are great for aphids. Lacewing larvae are even better.

I'd listen to others about the spacing on your head varieties. I don't grow them. I grow leaf varieties and try to space them no less than 10". SFG is great in theory and probably works for certain things. My theory is I want the most out of each plant with my limited space, so when it says tomatoes are 36", I do 36" When a pepper plant calls for 18-24", I go 20-24". I may have fewer plants, but when my broccoli heads, I'm not disappointed with a 4" head.

JMO

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 12:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
laceyvail(6A, WV)

Row covers are by far the easiest way to keep cabbage butterflies off the brassicas. Aromatic herbs won't have any effect whatsoever. If slugs are eating your seedlings, sprinkle Sluggo right after you sow your seeds. Or a couple of days before you set out sets.

It's probably much too early in zone 6 to start either lettuces or brassicas. My leeks are just up, next will be onions March 1 and then the brassicas in mid March. You definitely don't want' to start things too early. Hardening off takes only a few days, not weeks.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 6:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
planatus(6)

Because your space is tight, I would think about going to a faster, more dependable broccoli variety. Compared to Arcadia and Green Magic (lots of sideshoots), Waltham is slow and non-uniform.

I'm in Z 6, too and I don't bother with cauliflower in the spring, only in fall and then it's not a great crop. The plants are huge, easily 24 inches across, so they may not fit well in your SFG anyway. Broccoli is much more upright, and you can even grow lettuce between the plants.

I would not go too early with the romaine, which will just sit there until the weather warms up. Buttercrunch is a fabulous and versatile lettuce, but I'd also pick up a packet of mixed leaf lettuces that include red leaves and have fun with that, too.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 8:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

You don't mention fertilizing and watering. Two very essential things for good lettuce. As a leafy green, a good shot of nitrogen early on gets some good size on the leaves and dependable water is very important, especially as the weather warms up towards summer. I used to get small lettuce plants that bolted early, partly because when I started out I tried to treat all vegetable plants the same way. So I was guilty of under-feeding and under-watering my lettuces. Now I get beautiful 1 lb heads of red romaine, since I learned the error of my ways. :)

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 10:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emorems0(PA - 6a)

Guess I should have asked here before just guessing on varieties! Here's a (probably dumb) question... I never pulled the broccoli plants out of the garden from last year, there is no way to make a 1-2 year old broccoli plant make a new head in the Spring, right? Even though they overwinter just fine, if you want a new head, you need to pull them and start a new plant each year, correct? *I have no idea what variety they are, two were grown from a generic seed pack from Lowes 2 yrs ago and the other two were bought last year as young plants.

Should I even bother with the herbs in that garden? If I'm going to use floating row covers for the bugs anyway, ditching the herbs will give a few extra square feet for the broccoli and cauliflower.

Regarding watering and fertilizing, I just water daily each morning (when the soil is not already wet from rain, etc) with a garden hose and I add some compost/manure to my beds each Spring. These beds did have beans growing along the back edge for the last two years which should help some with N and they also have great worm activity (when I can keep my daughters from digging them out of the soil to play with, lol)

Thanks for all the info on this, you all have been so helpful! My garden experience growing up was my mom buying plants and planting them in her full sun bed of plain top soil (which was surprisingly fertile on its own), she never weeded or managed pests, or fertilized, or anything - just put plants in the ground and waited for veggies. So a lot of this is new to me!

Melissa

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 12:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woohooman

Melissa:

If you have a variety of broccoli that produces side shoots, you can let it keep going and producing side shoots. Yes, the main head is gone once it's gone. But I definitely get tons more from my side shoots than that initial head. You just want to keep harvesting the side shoots while they're still decently tight and definitely before they flower. I've had broccoli going for a good couple years before.

What types of herbs? The thing I noticed about beneficial attracting herbs is that they flower for a short period of time(cilantro, dill, parsley, to name a few). And it's the flowers that attract the beneficial predators. Maybe get some containers to plant some in and keep making successive plantings.

What you want is an ever-flowing progress of beneficial attracting flowering plants throughout the year/season. A few that come to mind that tend to keep flowering throughout the summer are marigolds, alyssum, zinnias. There are also some perennials like yarrow, golden marguerite, and tansy and even some perennial alyssums. Borage is also a great herb for this, but watch out--- it can be invasive.

Like I said though, you want diversity and staying power for your beneficial plants first and foremost. Usage(herbs) are just a plus. Certain beneficial flowers are good in the spring, summer, and the fall... so, deversify! Corn is a VEGGY that attracts, too. Actually many veggies(from onions, to swiss chard to broccoli )and many more) are great attractors if you let one or two go to flower. You can save the seed at the end of the season

Here's a link I find useful for IPM programs.

Kevin

Here is a link that might be useful: beneficial attarctors and what they attract

This post was edited by woohooman on Tue, Feb 18, 14 at 13:13

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 1:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
emorems0(PA - 6a)

I had rosemary, sage, thyme, and dill planned to be interplanted in that bed, plus nasturtium. I had done a border of marigolds in the past, and may plant one in each corner to mark my 1ft squares. I think I might want to do dill in a container on my back porch rather than in the garden... I recall how much it spread each year in my mom's garden.

I did get some side shoots from the broccoli last year, but they were so tiny. I think I'll just pull them and hope for the best with my Waltham. I don't really have the time or desire to order another variety at this point.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 2:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ltilton

Lettuce - heading varieties: 1/sq ft

By which I don't mean icebergs but also romaines, fullsize butterheads, and batavias.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 3:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
woohooman

Melissa: The rosemary and thyme are perennials, so they're great, but they're also mediterranean herbs and don't like the moister conditions that's usually associated with veggies. I give mine a good soak maybe a few times a year and that's it. So, in my opinion, I would plant those in a drier part of the garden or in semi large containers.

Never grown waltham, but I like the side shoots that Packman and Marathon Hybrid put out. Not bad at all for side shoots and grow much tighter than say, di ciccio. The big box stores probably have the Packman as seedlings.

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 3:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

When we transplant lettuce, we only grow it 3 to 4 weeks before it is transplanted. If you start now, you may have a really large plant to transplant.

This is the size we transplant our lettuce.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 12:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I start butterhead lettuce at the same time as early broccoli...March 17 and set out when small...NEVER large. little minnie is right. I start indoors in 3 inch pots and put them outdoors WHENEVER possible and keep under lights when indoors. I do feed them well.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 5:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Just my opinion, but I would NEVER plant nasturtium IN a vege garden! At least in my area (No Ca) they will TAKE OVER!!!!! I have plenty still growing on the outskirts, but I pluck every stray that I find.
I had to redo my herb garden this year cause they took over everything and I had to rip them out cause the large pots of herbs were getting lost! Already I'm finding some sneaking their way out from under the weed cloth!
Same with morning glories! Love em, but keep them OUT of my vege garden! Nancy

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Yes, keep morning glories out.
For me I have absolutely no problem with nasturtiums.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 9:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Nancy, I have seen some impressive nasturiums in California, for sure! They don't overwinter here and never sprawl that much. They are so pretty, especially with heavy dew on them. No clue where the OP is, but somewhere that they have winter, so probably no trouble from the nasturtiums.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 10:33AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Can I use grape leaves as mulch?
I have alot of chopped and dried grape vine leaves....
zzackey
Sincere Question - Why Participate?
If I had found this site from doing a web search because...
soilent_green
fertilizer for tomatoes
are tomatoes heavy feeders ? some say fertilize other...
westlaketomatoqueen
Potatoes and snakes
Perhaps you all can debunk an absurd concern I've had...
formerly_creativeguy
what varieties of watermelons are you growing?
what varieties of watermelons are you growing?
gridgardener
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™