The warm weather that we have seen in February has kicked our winter garden into gear. This week we will be harvesting lettuce. Our winter lettuce has grown quickly the past few weeks with the warm weather. In our part of the Carolinas, lettuce grows in the cool season. We can still plant lettuce for the next month or so, but if this warm weather persists, we may not get the best results.
Lettuce grows best in weather with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Once it starts to get warmer than that, lettuce will grow quickly and grow tall. This is called “bolting”, and it changes the shape of lettuce from a head to a tall leggy plant. When lettuce “bolts”, it also changes the flavor of the lettuce, making it bitter and unappetizing. So, it is important to watch lettuce this time of year, and to harvest once it is ready, and before it “bolts”.
There are many varieties of lettuce to choose from, but there are two main types of lettuce… head lettuce or leaf lettuce. A head of lettuce does best when you harvest the whole plant at once. Leaf lettuce can be harvested one leaf at a time and can be kept in the garden all winter long, and you can pick the lettuce as needed. Lettuce is generally ready 75 days after planting, but some head lettuce can be picked as early as 55 days. Lettuce is best eaten as soon as possible because it can wilt quickly. It can be refrigerated, but usually does not last longer than two weeks.
Lettuce has one main root at the bottom of the plant. With a pair of clippers, cut through that root and lift up the head of lettuce. Once you have harvested the lettuce, go back and remove the roots from the soil. They may continue to grow, but will only produce a small, tall, bolted plant. They may also attract unwanted garden pests.
We will also continue to pick our winter greens. Kale, collards, mustard, spinach, arugula and Swiss chard can still be planted now, but keep in mind that they attract pests. With warmer weather if you do not like to use pesticide, it is best to wind down your winter greens. Plus, winter greens grow quick in the warmer weather, and can bolt and go to seed just like lettuce.
Elsewhere in the garden, it is still too early to plant any frost sensitive plants. We will wait a few more weeks before we add more to the garden. In addition to the greens, we can also plant dill, cilantro, leeks, and kohlrabi now.