At the beginning of October, I’d been picking leaves from lettuces sown at the end of June and July already for a couple of weeks, and I was hoping to continue this supply of fresh leaves throughout autumn.
Eight weeks later, and even after a couple of frosts, some of the lettuces are still going strong, but now I wonder how they’re going to fare as autumn turns into winter.
I know other growers, such as Charles Dowding, produce magnificent leaves all year round, but these are grown in protected environments such as polytunnels and greenhouses. Living in London, with our brick houses packed tightly together, does provide me with an extra few degrees of warmth, so I’m hoping this will give my outdoor crop a fighting chance. You may ask, why not use your own polytunnel? Well, it’s all about space. Space is minimal, so there’s no room for walk in polytunnels, and I’ve found small cloches really fiddly for both picking and watering. I guess large arched metal hoops covered with fleece would give a little more protection whilst not blocking the rain, but that means you have to undo it all and re-attach it each time you want to pick your lettuces and large swathes of fleece are none-too-decorative in a small front garden either.
So I’ve decided to keep my experiments protection free.
My ‘Merveille de Quatre Saisons’, at the back of the bed, were sown at the end of June, a bit too early I reckon, and have now all gone to seed. My Cos ‘Freckles’ at the bottom left of the pic were sown at the beginning of September. A bit too late for them to really reach a big enough size for my autumn salads. But my ‘Cocarde’ oak-leaf lettuces are a real triumph. Sown at the end of July, I’ve been picking them from late September and although I’m not eating them every night (and sometimes mixing them with bought lettuces), they give me lots of tasty leaves to eat and look fantastic in my front garden too.
I’m not sure how much longer they’ll continue for (will keep you updated), but this year’s experiments are encouraging (and delicious). I think next year I’ll be planting a whole heap of lettuces at the end of July/beginning of August, as that seems the optimum time to get my autumn leaves off to a flying start.
Meanwhile, mustard leaves (and a few more lettuces) sown mid September, but not planted out until November, have just quietly settled in, without putting on any growth. Again, an earlier sowing in mid August and planting out in September or the beginning of October will hopefully give me spicy leaves aplenty next year.
So although my timings were a little out this summer, I’m really pleased that I still do have some tasty leaves to nibble at (including some self seeded baby nasturtium leaves) and hopefully, with some more careful planning, I’ll do better next year. I’m itching to get sowing seeds already!
p.s. All lettuces above available from Sarah Raven