By Jannie Vaught
Not being used to such a wet season after the debilitating freeze there are new chapters of observation and working with nature. At this time of year, I begin seed saving from the winter lettuce. These plants stood through the freeze and I did a little trial and covered a portion with frost cloth and some I left open to the weather. There was no noticeable difference. They were protected by being in the raised beds and with some wild onions for protection. I have let the 3 varieties go to flower and hopefully seed as I want to save this sturdy lettuce. Currently, they are just beginning to flower and I am picking the lower leaves for the chickens, as they are tough and bitter for the family table. I’m going to refer to my Seed Savers book, The SEED GARDEN The art and Practice of Seed Saving by Seed Savers Exchange. Lettuce, species: Lactuca sativa. Family: Asteraceae Life cycle: Annual Flower type: Perfect, self-fertile flowers are grouped in heads are further arranged in panicles. Self-pollinating. Seed Maturity: Seed maturity occurs after market maturity when pappuses emerge. Ar maturity, seeds are readily dispersed by wind. Primarily valued as an essential ingredient for salads, most lettuce is grown for its edible leaves, which vary from leaf shape and color.
There are several distinct categories. Loose leaf sometimes called leaf lettuce do not form heads. The full spectrum of leaf shape and color is found in the loose-leaf variety. These are harvested young and are known as “Cut and Come Again”. Cutting the bottom leaves and working up the plant which will form a single stalk. Butterhead or Bibb lettuce form small loose heads and are known for their smooth buttery flavor and texture. Crisphead or Iceberg cultivars develop a firm head of tightly overlapping leaves. Romain, or cos, lettuces are easy to recognize their thick leaves with a large midrib arranged in tall, upright heads. According to the book companies that grow lettuce for seed will do it in a hoop house to keep the rain off the forming seeds. Flowering, Pollinating, and Seed Set. Because the perfect flowers of lettuce have fused anthers that shed their pollen inward toward the stigma, they are almost completely self-pollinating. They bear what appears to be single flowers, but are actually composite flowers called heads. Fifteen to twenty-five individual flowers or florets comprise each head, each head open for just 1 day, usually for just a few hours. If fertilized, each floret produces a single seed. Since there are numerous heads on a plant that can flower sucessavily over a period of 40 days or more a single lettuce plant can produce a thousand seeds or more. Bolting can be triggered by increasing day length, high heat temperatures, moisture stress, and exposure to cold. Loose-leaf type tends to bolt or flower the earliest with the heading variety following.
The flowering pattern gives rise to a similar pattern in seed maturity, seeds developed on each branch in turn over an extended period of time. When the light grey Pappuses emerge from a mature lettuce head- a stage sometimes referred to as “feathering” the seeds inside are fully developed and ready for harvest. These look like what I call “Dandelion gone to seed”. A loose light feathery seed that tends to float on the air. At Harvest time plan of having some items ready. A deep clean dry tall bucket, clippers and masking tape, and marking pen. Have your container close by and clip the dry stem close to the soil. carefully place the seedhead down into the bucket and being to thresh the plant by shaking and tapping on the side of the bucket. I use a gloved hand to run down the plant and remove all the fluffy seeds as possible. After your harvest winnows the seeds by carefully in light breeze pour the seed from one bucket or container to the next. You will be helped by placing a dark cloth or tarp underneath this. The seeds will be heavier than the fluff and settle to the bottom. Place them in tight jars and use tape to mark variety, date, were grown, and the grower. Store in a cool dry dark place or even in an airtight jar. All seed saving follows the true “Sustainable” homestead we are incorporating. I do purchase from other seed growers after a few years to give my variety a boost.
Keeping them true to type. Always allow Full Maturity in saving all seeds. Here’s hoping the rain settles and we dry for a bit so I can begin this process as I am looking forward to having this very tasty freeze-resistant seed available for the upcoming years.
Growing Green With Jannie