Lauterbach: Planting lettuce now will make you happy early next year

Special to The Idaho StatesmanOctober 11, 2013 

What some of this lettuce next spring? It’s not too early to get started.

MCT

For early homegrown greens such as lettuce, plant seeds now. Planted now they should at least germinate before dwindling sunlight forces dormancy Nov. 8. When daylight lengthens to more than 10 hours per day Feb. 4, your tiny dormant plants can spring to life and grow rapidly.

My late friend Ross Hadfield and I both advocated planting lettuce seeds about Thanksgiving time. Now that I’ve learned more about the effects of limited duration of sunlight, I think planting even earlier is better. Seeds planted during the dormant period will be subject to consumption by birds and rodents until they germinate.

Frosts should not harm tiny seedlings or growing lettuce. Most lettuce varieties thrive in cool weather, but gardeners’ fingers do not. I closed out most of my frost-tender garden Oct. 3, wind exacerbating the chill. Gloves didn’t warm my hands, but my helper, Shayne Saxton, wore rubber gloves over wool ones, keeping his hands warm.

TOMATO ROUNDUP

How were your tomatoes this year? Some folks had abundant crops, others did not.

There were 116 varieties entered at the Tomato Tasting and Tales session at Edwards Greenhouse recently. Winners of the taste tests were Sungold, judged the sweetest and best all-round cherry tomato; Bosnian, the tangiest; Hillbilly potato leaf, the prettiest; and there was a three-way tie for weirdest, between Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple and German Striped Stuffer.

Perhaps those fruits judged weirdest had unusual growths on them. Those tomatoes, themselves, are not weird, but they are not colored red or yellow, traditional tomato colors. The German Striped stuffer is striped red and yellow, though.

Others judged best all-around were San Marzano in the paste category, and there was a four-way tie in slicers — Black Krim, Virginia Sweets, Hillbilly potato leaf and Russian Rose.

I’ve grown all but Virginia Sweets and Bosnian. Virginia Sweets seed is available from Tomato Growers Supply Co., and yellow Bosnian is available from Tatiana’s TomatoBase seeds.

Tomato experts usually maintain that yellow and orange tomatoes are inferior in flavor, but the hybrid Sungold, orange-gold in color, is often a winner in tomato taste tests. Virginia Sweets and Hillbilly are bicolored tomatoes.

Since I converted my garden to all raised beds, I’ve grown only indeterminate tomatoes in three long, low beds. Last year and this year, I tried growing determinate tomatoes in my taller raised beds along with other crops. Two varieties were quite a pleasant surprise: Oroma and Early Wonder. Seeds for Oroma are available from Territorial Seeds, and Early Wonder from Tomato Growers Supply Co.

Determinate tomatoes usually are small bushes, near simultaneous fruit setting so all are ready for harvest at once. That’s handy for canning, but not if you want fresh fruit all summer. Both of these varieties fruited all summer after setting fruit early, and both bore abundant crops of fruit.

The Early Wonder tomato plants set an incredibly heavy crop of fruit. I didn’t keep track, but each plant produced about one-third of a bushel of salad-sized tomatoes, about billiard ball-sized. I think they could be grown in a container, yielding heavily, too. This variety is open-pollinated.

Oroma tomatoes, also open-pollinated, are like sausage tomatoes, about 3 inches long, and easily peeled.

Pepper Mild Mottle Virus showed up again in some of my tomatoes this year, so I may drastically revamp what tomatoes I plant where. Hordes of squash bugs swamped my beds, in spite of my efforts and $40 worth of spray, but there was zero insect damage on plants situated in in-ground ornamental beds. Squash will require a change in garden planning, too.

VINEGAR INFO

Many have inquired about where to buy 10 percent vinegar. Years ago I saw it in an Albertsons, separate from the canning vinegars. Ads online indicate Sears and perhaps Target carry it. Ask your garden stores to stock it or order it online. Amazon.com, for instance, has it.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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