Question about head lettuce

emorems0(PA - 6a)March 26, 2014

I'm questioning whether I should start my lettuce inside and transplant or just direct sow outside. I'm growing two kinds of head lettuce, romaine and buttercrunch. I've never had good luck forming nice heads because I always started too late and they bolted with the warmth.

I do have a grow light inside, but I think that space might fill up fast with my tomatoes, etc. that I'm also starting this weekend. The forecast here finally looks like Spring (minus the cold and snow that we got this morning) so I'm thinking it might be better to just direct sow them outside.

The next 10 days should average around 50F during the day and in the upper 30s at night. I should be able to plant my lettuce directly outside now, right?

And if we get another cold snap I can use the milk jug trick to give them some protection, right? *I don't have a proper cold frame, just my recycleables and some floating row cover. But don't some people do 'winter sowing' like that with milk jugs?

I put the lettuce in my partly shaded bed because they tolerate shade better than most of my other plants. Will the part shade cause them to get leggy? Or will the cold temps and cool soil mitigate that?

I suppose I could start them in a container outside in full sun and then transplant them to the partly shaded bed once they are bigger, would that help or just be an unnecessary hassle?

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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I like to start some of my lettuce [Skyphos butterhead] inside and the rest outdoors as soon as for me.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 12:02PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

If you have indoor resources (space, lights , greenhouse) you can germinate and grow seedlings there. Also a simple hoop or a cold frame will do. I sowed some butterhead lettuce under hoop. They germinated in about a week or so. I will keep them there to get to transplantible size and then I will move them out.

The only reason I find to start COOL CROPS early indoor is that you have a short spring/cool weather and therefore most of them might bolt if you plant them too late. But place like where I am and also in cool Northeast we have a long spring.

The other option for quick satisfaction is to buy seedlings from nurseries. But I fine at (@ $1.75/ per 6) too expensive.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 12:48PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Until you gain some real hands-on experience, use your last option - outside in a container and then transplant them to the garden. Both varieties transplant well.

That way you can get a jump start on the season AND eliminate the spacing problems you seem to have in the past that not only prevents head formation but encourages bolting. Increase the spacing.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 1:42PM
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By this time of year, you won't get any real advantage starting lettuce inside.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 4:44PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I get about 3-4 weeks advantage.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 5:30PM
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The OP is in a warmer zone. By now, the weather there should be ready to plant outside.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 10:07PM
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calbayarea(9 SF Bay/Fremont)

Hi. For me, lettuce is a labor of love. I place some seeds under tissue paper and as they germinate I place one or two seeds into two inch dirt blocks. I place 50 blocks into one of those cheap plastic black trays, solid bottom. As soon as I see them start coming up I place the tray outside in the sun during the day and then bring them in during the night and put them under the lights. The picture was taken today and the plants were started about 8 weeks ago. Lately around here though, I've just been leaving them outside 24/7 since the weather has been great.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 1:43AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Ltilton, your post made me laugh (in a good way). In a normal year you would be right, but I'm still watching snow melt today and I'm in an even warmer zone! Please tell my weather that it should stop being so cold now, everything is late! Maybe it will listen to you since it sure hasn't been listening to me! :)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 10:43AM
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You tell my weather, I'll tell yours.

What a winter this has been!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 10:59AM
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calbayarea - those look great! That's how it should look.

So you keep them out/under light 24 hours?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 11:17AM
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emorems0(PA - 6a)

ltilton... yeah, today is the first day we've been above freezing in a week (last week we had one 'Spring' day with the rest of the week still holding onto winter). This is not a typical Spring so far and even if it were, I am in the same zone (6a) as wayne and the Farmer's Almanac lists March 21-April 4 as the starting indoors date for lettuce in my area.

Thanks for the advice all, I think I'm going to do the container outside in full sun and then transplant them into their partly shaded bed at transplant time (and then if winter rears its ugly head yet again, it will be easier to move them to shelter).

Think I should plant my broccoli and cauliflower out with the lettuce? Or start them inside with my warm plants like I had planned? Seems like temp fluctuations have a lot to do with poor head formation in brassicas, maybe I don't want to leave that up to mother nature considering how fickle she's been this Spring?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 2:21PM
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