One of my most popular posts is how I have grown lettuce before during the winter. Today I wanted to expand on that topic a bit more and get into the different winter lettuce types, along with seeds and other growing options. Enjoying fresh, home grown salads all winter can’t be beat.
If you want to grow winter lettuce you need to think strategically about the variety and means you will use. It also helps to plan in advance. Depending on what region you live in, there is still time right now to plan for a winter crop.
Enjoying Winter Salads
The last two years I did not grow winter lettuce myself. Instead I’ve been part of a CSA share where I purchase fresh produce from local farmers. Many of them have more advanced growing setups to grow produce year round in Ohio. Prior to joining the CSA I grew winter lettuce myself in my backyard.
However, I might grow my own winter crops again someday. If you are looking to do this yourself this post is intended to help you do just that. It’s really nice to enjoy fresh salads in the winter. As much as I enjoy fall produce such as squash, fresh greens can’t be beat.
If you decide to grow multiple varieties of lettuce you can also enjoy a mixed greens salad. Each type of winter lettuce contains different nutrients and can have a different taste. Mixing them together is a great way to create a well balanced salad.
Ways to Grow Winter Lettuce
First I want to go over a few common methods to grow winter lettuce. You will want to select which method will work best for you, and if applicable, build or purchase the proper supplies for that method.
• Cold Frame Box: This is the method I used in the past and I have an entire post explaining from start to finish how to build a cold frame box and use one. This is a box with a lid to keep the lettuce covered and enclosed during the winter. During a harsh winter I was able to enjoy winter lettuce in December and January.
• Hoop House / Greenhouse: This is the setup most commercial farmers use in order to grow winter lettuce in a region such as Ohio where we have a true winter. These buildings can be the size of a small outdoor shed or an entire building. They have covered windows and a covered ceiling to keep the plants warm but are typically made from glass or another see through material so light can still shine in.
• Row Cover: This is the method I am looking to explore next. With a row cover you would simply build or install a covering on an existing garden bed. In my case I have raised beds so it would be using one of my beds and installing a removable lid or cover. I have seen some plans that involve making a lid out of PVC pipe so I might explore that method.
• Hydroponics / Indoor Gardening: If you want to venture into year-round growing inside your home, hydroponics and indoor growing lights can make this happen. This works best if you have a basement or garage to set this up. It needs to be done in a climate controlled area and typically requires a decent amount of space.
• Direct Sow Outside: Growing lettuce in the ground with no protection is an option. With this method your growing season may be limited by climate and overnight low temps. In order to extend the season you can cover crops at night with an old bedsheet to protect them from early frost in the season. Where I live in Northern Ohio this method will not last all year, however, if the winter is mild it could last well into the season. If you live in a more mild climate this could work through an entire winter.
• Seed Sprouter / Growing Tray: This is another growing technique I have personally used and although it’s a little different from growing lettuce in soil I would consider it a winter lettuce option. Seeds can be eaten just after sprouting or in my case I like to let them grow some greens before eating them. I use these on salads and sandwiches. There are micro green kits available as well for the seed sprouter.
Winter Lettuce Seeds
Now you have hopefully determined with type of winter lettuce growing method you will use. Next you need to consider winter lettuce varieties. This is equally important in the success of your winter lettuce as some varieties are simply not going to perform well in the winter.
Because there are many types of greens my recommendation is to first look beyond green leaf lettuce and consider kale, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, mustard greens and other greens part of your growing plan. Many of these varieties are frost tolerant. Don’t forget about any accompanying ingredients you may want as well such as carrots, radish, etc.
• Leaf Lettuce: This encompasses all types of green leaf lettuce. The possibilities are really endless. In the past I grew romaine in the winter. I’ve also grown arugula as it prefers cooler temperatures and tends to bolt when it’s too warm. The biggest thing to look for is a seed variety that says frost tolerant / cold hardy or something similar on the package. This means it is a lettuce that will thrive in cooler temperatures, and likely not die after the first frost.
• Spinach: There are different spinach varieties. I have tried a summer variety and a winter variety. The winter ones will say frost tolerant on the package and likely have a short growing period. This means you can plant and enjoy fresh spinach in only a few weeks. Again, spinach tends to do well in cooler temperatures.
• Kale: This leafy green is underrated in my opinion. Not only is kale a nutritional powerhouse, it tends to grow well in cooler temps. One trick with kale is making sure you harvest properly. In order to keep the plant growing and producing carefully remove the outermost and largest leaves at the base of the stem. Do not remove the inner leaves or chop the plant off.
Winter Lettuce Varieties
Remember when shopping for seeds look at both frost tolerant varieties and growing days. In order to enjoy winter lettuce you will need to prepare for a harsh winter which could kill any crop. Shorter growing time means you are more likely to enjoy the harvest before that happens. Some varieties are mature in as little as 22 days.
When it comes to storing lettuce I always wash it throughly in water. Then pat it dry and store it in an airtight container with a paper towel or two. This makes the lettuce last quite a while. Varieties such as kale can last for weeks when stored properly. If you are down to the wire and need to figure out what to eat first, enjoy the lettuce greens and store your kale to eat after all the greens have been consumed.
What questions do you have?