Lamb's lettuce – The best greens of the season
We haven’t bought leafy greens in several years. Instead, we enjoy our own home grown and ridiculously fresh greens straight from the garden. Even in February!
Leafy greens grow quickly in the summer. It only takes a few weeks for the garden beds to start exploding with beautiful red and green plants. So you’re guaranteed a good harvest even if you start planting quite late.
Winter is a different story. You should start at least six months or more ahead of time. This is one of the most important differences between growing in the summer vs during winter. After several years of experimenting, I can tell you that planning and time management will make all the difference.
Tiny rosettes ready for winter
This is my lovely homegrown Lamb's lettuce (also called macha or corn salad). It’s crispy and has a nutty flavor. Definitely one of my favorite leafy greens, especially during winter. It has a special place in my heart not only because of the reasons above but also because it’s one of the few leafy greens ready to harvest this time of year.
I grow winter lettuce in several spots in my garden and I keep sowing between July-September. This allows me to keep harvesting throughout the winter. We just finished the batch we planted in the polytunnel in August and now it’s time to start on the greens from September. It might seem strange that such an “old” project produces such lovely fresh leaves. But that’s just how winter lettuce works.
I started the process in September when I raked this old hotbed where I used to grow melons. I scattered an entire bag of seeds and covered them with soil. I watered the bed and waited for the magic to happen. And finally, my Lamb's lettuce started growing through the cold months. But it takes time. That’s why I start sowing already in early fall. This way, I can enjoy fresh produce from my garden all year round!
My garden is located in zone 3, south of the city Växjö in southern Sweden. But winter lettuce is a wonderful addition to your garden no matter where you live. Don’t let the climate stop you!
Easy to harvest
Lamb's lettuce produces delicious little leaves. When it’s time to harvest my salad, I pull the entire plant out of the ground and shake the soil off. I pinch the roots off and put them in the compost. I then put my salad leaves in the strainer and rinse them. And that’s it! You can eat corn salad as it is or with some nice oil, balsamic vinegar or dressing. The kids eat them in handfuls straight from the bowl like it’s candy!
The leaves keeps growing in February when the light gradually returns. This will make the plants a lot bushier with several rosettes on each plant. They also grow a lot taller. This is actually the reason why I remove the entire plants instead of just picking it off leaf by leaf when it’s time to harvest: I don’t want the plants to grow too tall and at some point start to bloom. I want to use this garden bed for other things so I harvest to make room for the next project. I now sow other quick growing plants for spring here.
I’ve got several other projects going in the polytunnel and in my garden beds and pots. They will be ready to harvest when we’ve just finished this batch. Many sowings in many locations = a lot of food!
Questions and Answers
I got quite a lot of questions earlier after sharing pictures and a harvest live stream on my Instagram. I answer some of those questions below:
I have an unheated greenhouse, can I sow there in September and still get a good harvest?
That depends on where you are located. If you live far north then it might take a bit longer because of the lack of sunlight. But in general, I would say yes! Many people think it’s too cold to grow in the winter but it actually works just fine in most cases. Lamb's lettuce is very well adapted to cold temperatures. My polytunnel is completely unheated but it keeps growing nicely there.
I’ve tried to grow my own corn salad (lamb's lettuce) but it didn’t taste like the store bought kind. My home grown salad was very bitter. What went wrong?
The plants might not have been watered or fertilized enough. Most leafy greens become quite bitter when they’re stuck in soil that doesn’t provide them with the right amount of nutrition. I’ve grown several different kinds of lamb's lettuce and none of them have turned out bitter, so I definitely think it has something to do with the growing conditions. Some leafy greens like pak choi can turn a bit bitter if there’s too little light. I’ve never experienced this with lamb's lettuce though.
These leafy greens might be hardy but they still love fertilization. I’ve watered the soil with plenty of diluted urine (use one part urine and ten parts water) before sowing. I also use bokashi water as a fertilizer in the fall. Try again! It’s so exciting when it works.
Is it possible to grow lamb's lettuce in the summer too?
Yes. The only problem is that it might start to bloom. The point with lamb's lettuce, kale and portulaca is that they are amongst the only leafy greens that you can harvest during winter. I like the thought of them being exclusive winter delicacies. That gives me something to look forward to during summer and fall when there’s plenty of other tasty vegetables and leafy greens available.
We have a large lot of land but also plenty of snow and around -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) during winter. I think it might be too difficult for us to grow lamb's lettuce.
Wrong! If you had started growing lamb's lettuce in a greenhouse or a pallet collar with a lid, then you would have had lots of greens ready to harvest in winter. Just imagine when the snow finally starts to melt in February and the pallet collars are filled with beautiful greens that you planted during fall, that you finally can start to enjoy. Preparation is of course everything when it comes to growing food all year round even if there’s a lot of snow outside. A guest blogger will talk more about this subject soon!
When did you sow the lettuce you are harvesting now and does it grow indoors, outside or in a polytunnel?
I planted this batch in September in my polytunnel but you could also do it outside. I don’t grow lamb's lettuce indoors since this project takes up quite a lot of space.
Are you saying that it’s possible to do this in the open field?
This batch is from my polytunnel but I actually still have lettuce that I sowed the open field in July. It looks about the same as the batch from September. This really is one of the toughest leafy greens I know of. It’s hard to believe since most stores import corn salad from southern Europe. Isn’t that strange?
Is your polytunnel heated?
No, I keep it cold all winter. I only grow vegetables that can take cold temperatures. I love growing and eating climate friendly food that can be grown all year.
If you are one of those people who only buys seeds once each year then I definitely recommend that you put several bags of winter lettuce seeds on your shopping list. This is truly one of the most worthwhile projects in the kitchen garden. Grow large quantities and you’ll never have to starve! We use the winter lettuce in salads, on sandwiches, in the omelet or simply as it is with a nice olive oil dressing. Yum!