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Lettuce in Winter: Post Produce December 2012

a simple hoop tunnel extends the growing season

My hoop tunnels took about 15 minutes to assemble. I started writing about how I built them, but recognizing this is a post celebrating the harvest, I’ll save hoop tunnel instructions for another day. You can see vague leafy shapes through the plastic of the hoop tunnel.

You’ve found the home of Post Produce. Post Produce is a monthly online celebration of homegrown food. I’m posting this month about the lettuce I’ll harvest for my family’s Christmas dinner. I hope you’ll write a post on your blog about your own homegrown food, and return here to share a link back. The linky widget is at the end of this post.

It’s late December. WINTER! That means we’ve had many autumn nights (and days) where the temperature dropped below freezing. Despite the cold, I have fresh lettuce growing in my kitchen garden!

Hoop Tunnels

I reported back in October that a late planting of lettuce, spinach, and pak choi was growing nicely in my garden annex and that I had erected the skeleton for a hoop tunnel. I ended up making a second skeleton and draping two hoop tunnels with plastic in early November.

I haven’t harvested heavily from my semi-protected salad patch, but we have had fresh, homegrown greens at several meals even on days when the temperature never rose above freezing. This afternoon, I peeled back the entrance to one of the tunnels to confirm that we will have a fresh lettuce salad at Christmas dinner.

I spotted some damaged leaves on several lettuce plants—obviously frozen through some time ago. Still, the plants look healthy and we’re likely to have lettuce well into January unless the skies remain cloudy and the temperature drops and stays steadily in the low 20s.

Mild Autumn

Autumn has not challenged my hoop tunnels. While we’ve had an occasionally nighttime low of 24 degrees, soil hasn’t frozen. In fact, pak choi that didn’t make it into the hoop tunnels looks nearly as healthy as its sheltered neighbors. What’s more, my rhubarb plants are confused. They continue to push up new leaves as if they can’t accept that the growing season has ended.

That said, only these cold-hardy plants remain in my garden. Even cilantro has shut down without the benefit of cover, though I expect the plants will revive very early after the spring thaw. This will by my first winter ever in which I’ve served homegrown lettuce salad. It will most likely be the first of many.

lettuce in my hoop tunnel is ready for harvest

Several lettuce leaves in my hoop tunnel are droopy, and a few look as though they’ve frozen and thawed. However, there is clearly enough deliciously fresh-looking lettuce here to fill two or three large salad bowls.

pak choi outdoors in a central Pennsylvania winter

Some pak choi plants ended up inside my hoop tunnels while some remained exposed to the elements. Here, at the beginning of winter, the “outdoor” plants are ready for harvest. This is my first year growing pak choi so I don’t know what temperature will finally kill it off. We’ve had several nights this fall that were cold enough to kill the lettuce plants; without the hoop tunnels we wouldn’t be having homegrown lettuce at Christmas.

confused rhubarb plant in winter

This is just weird. I planted what seemed like really sketchy rhubarb roots in the spring—packages I’d bought at a discount store for about a dollar a plant. They’d been packed while dormant in moist soil and sealed in plastic bags, and I’ve no idea how long they sat on the department store shelf at room temperature. Still, they sprouted and thrived in my garden. Now, when there should be no sign of the plants (except, perhaps, for rotted leaves and stems), there are still mature, pink stalks and full-sized leaves. There are even new leaves (like the ones in this photo) emerging on some of the plants. It has been a very mild autumn.

Post About Your Produce

Share your garden produce with the world! Write your own blog post about what you’re eating from your garden. Are you harvesting now? Are your veggies and fruits still on the plants but coming on strong? Are you dipping into your preserves from this past growing season?

After you post, return here and add a link to the widget below. Please join in this month’s celebration of homegrown produce!



6 Responses to “Lettuce in Winter: Post Produce December 2012”

  • Paula:

    Great Photos! We love extending the lettuce season!
    We have lettuce growing in three coldframes in SE PA. The two out in the yard now have a light bulb in each one that will run overnight. Soon we will bank them with straw for added protection. the cold frame up against the west wall of the garage gets no light bulb for warmth but we do use the straw around it. We have fine wire under the frames to prevent the mice (they ate all the lettuce in three days once!)

    We’ve had lettuce til mid feb. when the roots seem to get mushy. We pick conservatively in Jan and Feb as regrowth is skimpy. Our best mix is the fall winter mix from Cooks Garden. It truly brightens up the dark cloudy winter days to go peek at the lettuce.

    enjoy your website!

  • Great lettuce. did you plant starts or seed in July? I would really like to get my lettuce to that point by now in December. Mine is smaller and was seeded in early August.

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    ElenaWill: Your comment led me discover that a link in this blog entry was broken. I led to a short post about my original planting of the lettuce that now grows in my hoop tunnels. I direct-sowed lettuce seeds about September 5th, and hit them with fertilizer about the same time (the soil is very depleted in that particular planting bed). In central Pennsylvania, early September was about two weeks late for a good winter crop, but the lettuce has done pretty well in the hoop tunnels. Not sure why your lettuce would be smaller if planted in August. Maybe crazy August and September heat slowed it down? Lettuce in August in zone 8 sounds manageable. Without hoop tunnels I’d shoot for, perhaps, mid-August and hope to harvest until at least winter.

    Since all I can do is guess, I’ll point out the obvious: sunlight, water, soil nutrition, temperature. I hope you’re still enjoying your lettuce in any case! Thanks for participating in Post Produce. It hasn’t really caught on with other bloggers, and it’s especially light in winter. Always glad to see new faces involved!

  • I missed my chance sowing lettuce in late summer/early autumn, so I only have a few which I brought indoors and have growing on my windowsill, but it’s great to see them growing when the world outside is covered in snow!

    I do have hoop tunnels but usually they only make an appearance for starting seeds or transplanting seedlings; I rarely seem to get round to using them again at the end of the season. Thanks for reminding me about them! Maybe I’ll be more organised next year…

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Ann Marie: I don’t even try to keep things going on the windowsill; there just isn’t enough light there. Tried a basil plant one winter and it had four inches of stem between sets of leaves; way too spindly to be appealing. I hope you’re having better luck with your lettuce! The hoop tunnel was terrific, and I’ll probably use one again next year. Maybe we both can be eating fresh lettuce salads until early or even mid winter!

  • Hi Daniel, I always grow a few edibles on my south-facing front windowsill in the winter – lettuce and basil are actually the two that I’m growing there at the minute. Neither has put on much growth but they were a reasonable size at the start of the winter, so there was enough to use sparingly for quite a while – it’s almost gone now though! Hopefully next year I’ll be organised enough to have lots of lettuces growing in my hoop tunnels throughout the winter.

    I keep taking a few leaves from the top of my basil plants so they don’t get too leggy – it seems to work well for me. There’s isn’t enough for pesto, but there is just enough to add to sandwiches from time to time! It’ll soon be time to start sowing seeds though, so I’ll need that window space again…maybe I could manage one small batch of pesto!

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