Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce


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Winter is not the time to grow lettuce? That's not quite right. It is thanks to seed initiatives such as the Association for the Conservation of Old Crop Varieties in Germany (VEN) or Noah's Ark in Austria that traditional and historic varieties are preserved. Often also almost forgotten cultivation methods are rediscovered. The best example is winter lettuce. Variety names such as 'winter buttercup' or 'winter king' suggest the original use, but recent research shows that many of the garden salads that have been tried and tested in summer, including Romanian salads such as 'valmaine', are suitable for winter storage.

Sowing and thinning

Sowing starts in mid-August, in mild conditions at the end of September at the latest, preferably in two sets directly into the field. The thinning of the rows of lettuce to a distance of 25 to 30 centimeters should make only in the spring, advises vegetable cultivation consultant Jakob Wenz of the island Reichenau in Lake Constance, because at a denser stand, the young plantlets are better protected from frosty temperatures. Instead, you can prefer the required seedlings in small pots and plant them in place by the middle of October, once they have developed five to eight leaves. A garden book from 1877 recommends: "Especially suitable for this purpose is a bed on which kale (kale) was planted and which the sun does not shine before 11 o'clock."

Salad young plant

The young plants are surprisingly frost hardy

Secure the winter lettuce against frost

The biggest danger for the young salads is not the cold, but high temperature differences, especially between day and night. The old gardening rule "Salad must flutter in the wind", you should ignore the winter cultivation. It is better to plant soil level or a little deeper, otherwise there is a risk that the plants freeze in frost. The fine roots tear off, the salads can no longer absorb water and dry up.

In the spring, early chopping is done to wake the plants from their winter rest period. A fertilizer, preferably with fast-acting organic fertilizers, preferably horn flour or maltaflor, ensures that they continue to grow quickly. Depending on the region and weather conditions, you can harvest buttery heads in April even without a greenhouse. The last one will be taken out of the garden at the end of May, that is, when spring arrives with the first cut salad.

Expert tips for growing winter salad

Jakob Wenz

Jakob Wenz, together with his fellow student Matthias Wenger, studied the historic winter cultivation of lettuce under today's conditions in a diploma thesis. Jakob Wenz works as a vegetable consultant on Lake Constance on Reichenau Island

Is hibernation really worth it?
In the home garden in any case, especially on heavy soils that stay cold and wet in the spring and can be processed late. The long harvest period, which is disadvantageous for the cultivation of crops or the often different development of the heads, is a great advantage for self-catering. You can even plant a little tighter and use smaller heads in the spring, such as chopped or pickled lettuce.
Which varieties are particularly cold-resistant?
In old garden books and in the historical literature the variety 'Altenburger Winter' is particularly emphasized. In our experiments we could not find any big variety differences. Traditional and new breeds, for example 'may king' or 'attraction', survived temperatures below minus 26 degrees Celsius under a light fleece overlay.
Is cultivation in the cold frame recommended?
It is possible, but cultivation in the field is usually more successful. Disadvantages are the high temperature fluctuations during cultivation under glass. In the cold frame often spread fungal diseases. Therefore, you should hang up the window only at the beginning of vegetation. In the field, you can also cover the beds with a simple hiking box.
Apart from kale, are other vegetables suitable for the mixed culture with winter lettuce?
An instruction from the 19th century advises mixing lettuce and spinach seeds and sowing them on the bed. The spinach is intended to protect the smaller lettuce plants in winter and is harvested earlier. I would advise picking spinach and salad alternately in rows. In the beginning of November, I put two grain winter puff beans between the salads, which also worked well.

Win your own seed

Salad is one of the self-pollinators, that is, you do not have to worry that the cultivated varieties with other breeds cross.During the formation of the head you mark the most beautiful and healthiest plants with a stick. Please never choose seeders for the seed harvest, as they will start to bloom first and pass on this unwanted trait. Two to three weeks after blooming, the branched inflorescences are cut off with the mature, browned seeds, left to dry in a breezy, warm place, and the seeds are tapped over a cloth. Then sieve off leftovers, fill the seeds in small bags and keep them cool, dry and dark.

Merveille of the quatre season

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Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: lettuce

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: spring

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: cultivation

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Recommended salad varieties

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: winter

'Merveille des quatre saisons', also known as the 'miracle of the four seasons', forms loose heads with dark red leaves and light green center of the head. The variety bred in France in 1880 thrives from spring to winter

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: cultivation

'Humil' is, in the best sense of the word, old-fashioned genuine, cold-resistant butter salad with medium-sized, light green, tightly wound heads and a bright, tender heart. The aromatic leaves melt on the tongue

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: lettuce

Ice salad 'unique' is suitable for early cultivation and late sowing with overwintering on the bed. The fast-growing, Austrian local variety forms solid heads with curly, red-rimmed leaves

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: cultivation

'Brune d'Hiver', is a traditional, still popular red-brown winter lettuce with slightly smaller heads. He has also proven to grow in rougher locations

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: lettuce

'Roter Butterhäuptl' from Maribor in Slovenia makes dark red heads with soft leaves. The preserved variety is resistant and robust, hardly susceptible to downy mildew infestation, but tends to shoot in a warm spring

Planting in autumn, harvesting in spring: winter lettuce: cultivation

'Waldor' with shiny green leaves, richly folded along the midribs, is one of the best varieties for overwintering in most locations. The variety is considered very old, but breeders and origin are unknown

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'Waldor'

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