There's still time to get lettuce crop planted
Though you may think planting time is over for the vegetable garden, it isn't. There are many fast-maturing crops that can be planted in late August and early September for late fall and even winter harvests. The trick is to select crops that are tolerant to cold weather and reach a harvestable size very quickly.
Some of my favorite late season crops include radish, baby kale, corn mache (a delectable salad green that I harvest from my garden all winter long), turnip greens and spinach, all of which are easy to start by directly sowing their seeds right into the garden. But my absolute favorite vegetable crop to plant this time of year is lettuce.
Though most varieties take a bit longer to develop full-sized heads, many varieties of lettuce can be harvested as baby salad greens in as little as 30 days. And, if you pick a variety bred specifically for its improved cold tolerance, such as “Winter Density,” “Marvel of Four Seasons,” “North Pole” and “Tango,” you may find you're able to harvest fresh lettuce until Thanksgiving (and maybe even Christmas!) by simply covering the plants with a layer of floating row cover.
Before planting a fall crop of lettuce, work some finished compost into the planting area and rake it smooth. Use a hoe to create a planting row and sow the seeds 1⁄4-inch deep and space them about an inch or so apart. Since you're going to be harvesting this lettuce as baby greens, the plants won't need as much room as full-sized lettuce heads; you can keep the seeds spaced fairly tightly with no ill effects.
Keep the seed bed well-watered. Young lettuce leaves can be harvested on a cut-and-come-again basis, using a sharp pair of scissors to cut the leaves from their roots once every week or two. The roots will then re-sprout more leaves, providing you with a second, and even third, harvest of crisp salad greens.
Lettuce can also be grown in containers this time of year. Simply choose a container that's about 16-20 inches in diameter and place it in a shady corner of the yard. Fill the container with a mixture of 50 percent high-quality potting soil and 50 percent compost, by volume. Sow eight to 10 lettuce seeds per container, making sure each seed is buried only about 1⁄4-inch deep. Keep the container well watered until the seedlings sprout and then water as needed as the plants mature.
When freezing temperatures arrive, you can even move your lettuce pot into a cool garage or basement and place it next to a window. Even with very little light, the lettuce plants will continue to produce for a few more weeks. You can also move the container into your living space, but be forewarned that when doing this, you'll often see an infestation of aphids, whiteflies and other pests develop as the warmer temperatures of a home stimulate their reproduction.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.