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Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Posted by haleygardens Oklahoma (My Page) on
Tue, Jul 8, 14 at 12:21

Hello! I've only just started gardening this year. I have several iceberg lettuce plants, and all of them balled up but remained very small. I had a bit of a rough start with them. But then suddenly one of them started to grow grow grow. It got very big and I have been very happy about it. It seems to have reached it's growing capacity, but has not yet begun to form a head. I think it went to seed. The middle of it got tall and came to a point, and is not lettuce leafs. Do I just pick this off and wait for the lettuce to form a head? Also I've been trying to find pictures of what it means when lettuce 'bolts' but I can't seem to find any. Could anyone help me out with these two things? Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

I think you can look at your plant and get a good idea of what it looks like when lettuce bolts. I just grow a loose leaf lettuce in the fall and in the spring. The heat we have is not kind to lettuce.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

I agree with Larry. Your description of what you are seeing with your lettuce is indeed bolting.

When they balled up, that was the heads and you should have harvested then, even if they were small. Once they form heads, the next step is for them to flower and form seeds, which we refer to as bolting. In our climate, lettuce bolts pretty quickly because of our heat. With the one that seemed to stall and suddenly get big, it sounds like it failed to head up, but did go ahead and try to form seedstalks. Chalk it up to our weather and try again with leaf lettuce for fall or head lettuce next winter. If you plant lettuce too late, our weather will freeze it in fall or heat it up and make it bolt in spring. With some kinds of edible plants, you can plant late and often get a good harvest anyway. With lettuce, that is more rare. Lettuce is a cool season crop and our cool season often doesn't stay cool long enough.

Part of the problem is that you chose a heading form of lettuce, which can take much longer to produce a usable crop than leaf lettuce does. Because we usually go from cool weather to hot weather very abruptly in spring, leaf lettuce varieties tend to do better here in Oklahoma. You might have noticed that you rarely, if ever, see locally-grown head lettuce in grocery stores in Oklahoma. That's because we don't have the climate to grow it easily or well here.

Be sure next year that you plant your lettuce at the right time. The OSU-recommended planting dates for planting both leaf lettuce and head lettuce are Feb 15th - Mar 10th, with the earlier date being for far SE OK and the later date being for far NW OK. So, if you live in central OK, choose a planting date right in the middle. From a planting date around March 1st, you'd have at least 90 days to get a good harvest. I'm in southcentral OK and some years the lettuce bolts in late May and other years not until late June. I only grow the leaf types because you can harvest leaves from them once the plants are only a few weeks old so they provide a harvest over a much longer period of time.

For a fall lettuce crop, the OSU-recommended planting dates are Aug 1 - 15, with the earlier date being for NW OK (since it gets colder earlier in fall) and the later date being for SE OK (since it gets colder later in fall) and all the rest of us can choose any planting date in between those two extremes. Only leaf lettuce is recommended for fall because it has the best chance of producing a harvest before the autumn temperatures get too cold for lettuce. Head lettuce planted in August is likely to freeze to death before it gives you a harvest unless the cold weather is extremely late to arrive.

Success also depends on selecting varieties that are known for their heat-tolerance in our climate. You have to be careful selecting lettuce varieties because a lot of them that are supposedly heat-tolerant may be heat-tolerant to the kind of heat found in milder zones where 85 or 90 degrees is about as hot as it ever gets, but they are not heat-tolerant to the kind of heat we have here.

There's no guarantees in gardening because there are so many variables involved and many are beyond your control. The hardest variable to deal with here is the erratic nature of our weather. It can make getting a crop of anything kinda iffy some years. Sometimes you can do absolutely everything by-the-book and perfectly correct and still not get a harvest because the weather gets too hot too early or there's a very hard freeze far later than expected in spring or far earlier than expected in autumn. It is rare than every single crop you plant in every year will produce a harvest. I'm happy if I get a good harvest from 75% of what I plant in any given year.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

I grew leaf lettuce on a salad table this spring. (shallow 2 x 2 tray, counter height table.) I planted WAY to close together. Still, my hubby got a salad about every other day. I just cut bigger leaves and left the rest of the plant growing. They grew great, despite being crowded and towards the end of the season I would "mow" a whole section and it would grow back. It was in shade in late afternoon, but when the heat came on it got bitter. I planted some on the north side of the house that is in shade most of the day. We have just started harvesting that. We will see how long till it gets bitter. There are a lot of other greens besides lettuce. The fall garden will be great for spinach, Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens. I went to Whole foods so I could try some of the veggies I had not eaten. I really love chard. However, I hated kohlrabi.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

I grow lettuce both in the ground and on a salad table in the back yard that is situated to get morning sun/afternoon shade. The garden lettuce in more or less full sun bolted a month before the salad table lettuce did. We likely could have kept the salad table lettuce going another month if we had moved it into deeper shade like we normally do so that it was only getting a couple of hours of sun early in the morning, but we were busy and never got around to moving it. The last head made it to the end of June before it finally was done, so Tim was happy. He likes lettuce so much I wish I could grow it year-round, but we're in the 100s already, so it wouldn't have much of a chance. At the west end of the garden, one year I babied it along until the end of July (because a pecan tree west of the garden shaded it beginning around 11 a.m.) but that's really rare here, so it mush have been an extra mild summer. I'm a couple hundred miles further south than you are, so we get hot quite a bit earlier some years. Being that far south is great in some ways (I can plant tomatoes with frost protection in late February or early March and be harvesting the first fruit by late April) and not so great in others (cool-season crops finish up really early here some years when the heat arrives extra early).


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

I grow lettuce both in the ground and on a salad table in the back yard that is situated to get morning sun/afternoon shade. The garden lettuce in more or less full sun bolted a month before the salad table lettuce did. We likely could have kept the salad table lettuce going another month if we had moved it into deeper shade like we normally do so that it was only getting a couple of hours of sun early in the morning, but we were busy and never got around to moving it. The last head made it to the end of June before it finally was done, so Tim was happy. He likes lettuce so much I wish I could grow it year-round, but we're in the 100s already, so it wouldn't have much of a chance. At the west end of the garden, one year I babied it along until the end of July (because a pecan tree west of the garden shaded it beginning around 11 a.m.) but that's really rare here, so it mush have been an extra mild summer. I'm a couple hundred miles further south than you are, so we get hot quite a bit earlier some years. Being that far south is great in some ways (I can plant tomatoes with frost protection in late February or early March and be harvesting the first fruit by late April) and not so great in others (cool-season crops finish up really early here some years when the heat arrives extra early).


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Thanks for all the advice! I guess I shouldn't have been greedy and waited for all of them to get bigger. I'm just so new to this that I just kind of guess with things. I suppose I should have joined this forum sooner. I guess I'll try the big lettuce and see if it's edible. Maybe I'll try to plant some leaf lettuce for the fall.Thanks again!


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Haley,

I forgot to say this earlier: welcome to the OK Forum and I'm glad you joined. I hope you'll post here often. It is a great place to share experiences and knowledge, whether it is your 1st day as a gardener or your 100th year (okay, slight exaggeration....none of us are quite that old yet). I hope.

Cool-season crops are tricky in our climate because of the erratic nature of our springtime temperatures. Because of that, we've learned to be extra-careful to plant cool-season crops on time (or early if we can get away with it). Since our cool season often gets cut short by the early arrival of hot weather, we've learned that we cannot be greedy and hold out for a larger harvest----we have to grab whatever harvest of cool season crops we can get whenever we can get it. Don't feel bad. I bet every single one of us has messed up one cool-season crop or another while holding out hope that if we left it alone and let it grow some more then we'd get a bigger harvest....and the weather refused to cooperate with us and then we didn't the larger harvest we were expecting. Chalk it up as a lesson learned. I assure you that lessons learned the hard way like this, while disappointing, are lessons that make all of us better gardeners.

Now that we know that you are there, you're stuck with us, your new gardening family. So post often, ask questions, read other people's questions and everyone else's answers back to them. You'll learn a huge wealth of knowledge from everyone here. Gardening is a very fulfilling, very worthwhile, very interesting hobby/lifestyle, but there is a learning curve. Hopefully, by being a member of this forum, your learning curve will be shorter and less painful than it otherwise would be. You won't have to guess nearly as much....or, at least, you'll have us guessing right along with you.

Dawn


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Loose leaf lettuce is awesome to grow here. I have it growing from early April through mid July (I still have some out there right now, but it is bolting, we dont care though and eat the slightly bitter leaves). I will plant a whole new area in September, get lettuce all October at least, sometimes into November.

And as others have pointed out, leafy greens here are awesome. I pretty much grow kale year round, and chard, mustard greens, arugula etc... for at least 10 months out of the year.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

You harvest iceberg at the ball up stage.
You will never get heads anymore once bolt has started.
And then the lettuce goes very bitter.

Head lettuce is a very good candidate for starting indoors and setting out the started plants very early. You can also sow direct, but then you get the best heads, if you plant as soon as the ground can be worked and thin very early to about a foot apart in the row. Iceberg can also be planted later in late summer for an autumn looseleaf harvest. It has a bit more brittle leaf texture than most loosehead varieties, and some like it better even if they never harvest a fully mature head.

All lettuce goes bitter enough to be inedible when it bolts.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

The others are right about trying to grow head lettuce here. Its tough with our short springs. Besides if we read the nutritional values of iceberg lettuce vs leaf lettuce you will find the leaf/romaine types about 5x higher in nutrients.

But I know, I know, when we were kids if you could not pick up a lettuce and throw it to first base we were not eating it.

I have had good luck with Paris Island Cos Romaine that makes somewhat of a head and one called Marvel de quatre saisons(The hint is marvel of four seasons. It is a butter head type that is speckled with purple and is simply beautiful and not as bad to go bitter and bolt in hot weather, As for me, I like a few of the leaves in a salad to have a bite but I'm funny like that.
At any rate the world of lettuce is huge with many thousands of types from all over the world and that's half the fun is trying new stuff.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Less nutritious?

Of course it is, all headed or blanched vegetables are less nutritious than their fully colored counter parts.

The answer to shorter springs is transplants started earlier rather than directly sown. All varieties of lettuce transplant easily and can be set out even earlier than cabbage or broccoli.


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Hayley, If you like the crunchiness of iceberg lettuce, you can grow Summer Crisp, which is a line of butterheads that have a similar crunchiness. I have grown at least 3 types of Summer Crisp: Nevada, Sierra and Cherokee, and probably other ones whose names I don't remember. You can harvest them at any stage in the plants' life and don't have to wait until the head is fully formed and big. It is a looser head than you get with iceberg, but the leaves are nice and crunchy. It is fairly heat tolerant, but I grow it at the far western end of my garden so it gets shade from an adjacent pecan tree. That helps keep lettuce happy up to a month longer than plants out in full sun.

Pretty much any leaf lettuce or romaine lettuce will grow well here, and so will the Summer Crisp line, so you have lots of options in addition to iceberg.

One of the problems with growing lettuce here is not just that spring temperatures don't last long, but that we also can get occasional hot days with highs in the 80s and 90s even while our nights are still freezing. The erratic nature of the temperatures can be hard on all the cool-season crops too, though more so in spring than in autumn.

I'm going to link the Summer Crisp page from Johnny's Selected Seeds so you can see all the different types of Summer Crisp. Sometimes I have seen summer crisp lettuce seeds on seed racks in the stores---maybe Sierra or Nevada, but I always order online so I can get the exact ones I want to grow instead of just getting whatever is in the stores.

Dawn

Here is a link that might be useful: Summer Crisp Lettuces


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Ah, Dawn, you're killing me. I had decided on 3 varieties of lettuce to try for fall and you link to a whole PAGE ...maybe spring!


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RE: Growing Iceberg Lettuce

Amy, I am what I am....a gardening enabler. Sorry. OK, I'm not really sorry because I'm doing my best to spread the love of gardening. I love the Summer Crisp series and I love Johnny's. I can barely link a page for somebody else to see without wanting to drop everything and buy some seeds right that moment, whether I need them or not.

Summer Crisp is the perfect lettuce for our climate. I have found it is very tolerant of the way our weather fluctuates wildly in spring and fall.

Dawn


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